Sustainable production

How can we increase production of nutritious food while still conserving the environment?

There is much debate over how land should be used to balance meeting the food needs of the world’s growing population and protecting natural environments and biodiversity (which can provide ‘ecosystem services’ such as medicines, carbon storage, and water and nitrogen cycling). The options are often divided into land-sharing and land-sparing approaches.

Land-sharing combines agriculture and nature conservation on the same land – for example, incorporating hedges and ponds into farms. In these approaches, agricultural yields are usually limited.

Land-sparing, on the other hand, creates spare land for nature conservation by sustainably intensifying production and increasing yields on farmed land.

In the European Union (EU), environmental and agricultural policies promote a combination of these approaches through protected areas such as the Natura 2000 network, which covers 18 per cent of EU land, and agri-environment schemes that subsidise farmers to protect wildlife on their land.

Should the UK focus more on land-sharing or landsparing? We’ve started you off with some pros and cons of land-sharing.

Pros (of more land-sharing) Cons
The UK already has extensive experience of low-intensity farming, such as grazing of livestock on semi-natural land, which maintains some biodiversity. Lower yields from the same area of farmed land so more land must be farmed overall.
Some ecosystem services, such as pollination, rely on small fragments of semi-natural habitats. Less land is left completely natural or managed purely as conservation areas.
Land-sharing can be politically and practically easier to implement. May benefit generalist species capable of surviving in a wide variety of habitats, but not so likely to protect rare species that can only survive in particular habitats.

What are the pros and cons of the land-sparing approach? How does nutritional value factor in?

Do your pros and cons change if you consider a country other than the UK, such as one of the South American countries that are home to the Amazon rainforest?


Lead image:

US Geological Survey/Flickr CC BY


Further reading

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Plants’ in May 2016.

Ecology and environment
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development