Knowledge for better food systems

Resolving Conflicts between Agriculture and the Natural Environment –financial incentives and land sparing versus land sharing

New research from Cambridge University finds that providing farmers and farmer industries with financial incentives to mitigate agriculture’s impact on the environment positively effects greenhouse gas reduction and increased biodiversity at the aggregate level.

The study analysed investment in two key types of agri-environment schemes: measures to spare land for conservation, and measures (such as taxation) intended to limit fertiliser use. The research team plotted this against national trends for farmland bird populations and emissions from synthetic fertiliser across the US, Canada, Australia and Europe.

The results showed that over the five-year period investigated, higher national investment in these approaches correlated with increased levels of bird biodiversity and lower rates of GHG emissions from farming. The local effects were averaged out to show what happened with biodiversity and emissions at a larger scale.

However the study points out that if the mitigation measures lead to reduced crop yield this could lead to expanded production on land elsewhere, thereby exporting the problem. They argue that “the conflict between agriculture and the environment will be best resolved by policies dedicating high-quality habitat towards nature conservation, while encouraging intensive production on existing farmland with stringent limits on environmental impacts …Measures that make farmland itself more benign—so called “land-sharing” approaches—also deliver local environmental and social benefits, but can reduce agricultural yields and cause land conversion elsewhere, effectively displacing environmental burdens. Intensifying production on existing farmland may thus be a better option because it avoids displacing impacts and can allow other land to be freed for nature conservation and restoration.”

Abstract

Agriculture dominates the planet. Yet it has many environmental costs that are unsustainable, especially as global food demand rises. Here, we evaluate ways in which different parts of the world are succeeding in their attempts to resolve conflict between agriculture and wild nature. We envision that coordinated global action in conserving land most sensitive to agricultural activities and policies that internalise the environmental costs of agriculture are needed to deliver a more sustainable future.

Citation

Tanentzap, A. J., Lamb, A., Walker, S., Farmer, A., (2015) Resolving Conflicts between Agriculture and the Natural Environment. PLOS Biology 13 (9): e1002242 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002242

See the full paper open access here and read further coverage here.

Read more about Climate change mitigation, see the overarching category on Land as well as the keyword category Land use and land use change. See also the categories on Biodiversity and ecosystems as well as the more specific keyword categories Ecosystems and ecosystem services, landscape biodiversity.  

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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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