Could land sparing work to integrate agricultural production and biodiversity conservation in the global south? – New insights from Ethiopia

Could land sparing work to integrate agricultural production and biodiversity conservation in the global south? – New insights from Ethiopia

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To meet the increasing demand for food for a growing global population, agriculture plays a key role – it has to provide enough food while minimizing negative environmental impacts. To achieve this, different stakeholders (governments, researchers, trans-and-multinational corporations, etc.) have worked on different strategies of land-use approaches. One way to think about such land-use strategies is the land sparing or land sharing framework (Fischer et al. 2008; Phalan et al. 2011; Kremen 2015). Land sparing is a land use approach where intensive agricultural production at a larger spatial scale is strictly separated from biodiversity conservation; while land sharing is a land use approach in which food is produced by integrating agriculture with biodiversity conservation.

The UN in its SDG seeks to eradicate poverty in its all forms [Goal 1] as well as to create a world free of hunger [Goal 2] by 2030 ( Among other things, increasing agricultural production could play a role in achieving these goals, but this could come at the expense of the natural environment. On the other hand, new ambitious conservation initiatives (such as 30 by 30 proposal (Waldron et al. 2020), or the Half-Earth project ( have emerged to conserve biodiversity, which is declining at an alarming rate due to the expansion and intensification of agriculture. At this conjuncture, we studied the impact of plausible future scenarios of agricultural landscape change in the Global South, in a landscape that is a mosaic of forest patches and farmland – the Jimma coffee landscape in southwestern Ethiopia.

In our study, we used a transdisciplinary research approach to analyze the impact of future land-use scenarios on benefits that people generate from woody plants in farmland and in the forest. We considered four future plausible land-use scenarios developed by participatory scenario planning with stakeholders. The scenarios capture gradients of plausible landscape change, considering both integrated land sharing strategies as well as ‘separated’ land sparing strategies.

Woody plants provide different benefits (or ecosystem services) for the local community who depend on their surrounding for their daily sustenance. Woody plants are used as a source of fuelwood, fodder, construction wood or medicine; to make ploughing tools or household utensils; they can support the production of commodities such as honey or coffee; and some help to maintain soil fertility (Haile et al. 2017; Ango 2018; Shumi et al. 2021).

Our study shows that conventional agricultural intensification in combination with sparing for conservation would cause a displacement of woody-plant based ecosystem services from agricultural land to forested areas. Agricultural land-use intensification would thus very likely cause increased exploitation of the remaining forests as a source of vital ecosystem services -- simply because people are likely to go into the forest and then extract the benefits from the forest out of necessity. Alternatively, if people are prevented from entering the forest, they would lose access to a wide range of important benefits from woody plants. In short: if trees are lost from farmland to support intensification, people will lose access to important benefits from nature. Such unintended side-effects of agricultural intensification are likely important in many tropical landscapes, and must be considered carefully when making policy recommendations about the integration of food production and biodiversity conservation. The effectiveness of sparing remnant forest patches from human influence, in this context, is questionable from a practical perspective, and could have negative implications for both local livelihoods and natural environment.

If you would like to read more in detail, you can find the full paper on this link:


Ango TG (2018) “Medium-scale” forestland grabbing in the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia: impacts on local livelihoods and forest conservation. Land 7:1–20.

Fischer J, Brosi B, Daily GC, et al (2008) Should agricultural policies encourage land sparing or wildlife-friendly farming? Front Ecol Environ 6:380–385.

Haile G, Lemenih M, Senbeta F, Itanna F (2017) Plant diversity and determinant factors across smallholder agricultural management units in Central Ethiopia. Agrofor Syst 91:677–695.

Kremen C (2015) Reframing the land-sparing/land-sharing debate for biodiversity conservation. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1355:52–76.

Phalan B, Onial M, Balmford A, Green RE (2011) Reconciling food production and biodiversity conservation: Land sharing and land sparing compared. Science (80- ) 333:1289–1291.

Shumi G, Rodrigues P, Hanspach J, et al (2021) Woody plant species diversity as a predictor of ecosystem services in a social–ecological system of southwestern Ethiopia. Landsc Ecol 36:373–391.

Waldron A, Adams V, Allan J, et al (2020) Protecting 30 % of the planet for nature : costs , benefits and economic implications areal protection in the draft post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework

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Life Sciences > Biological Sciences > Ecology > Biodiversity
Ecosystem Services
Life Sciences > Biological Sciences > Ecology > Ecosystems > Ecosystem Services
Food Production
Life Sciences > Biological Sciences > Agriculture > Agricultural Economics > Food Production
Tropical Ecology
Life Sciences > Biological Sciences > Ecology > Terrestial Ecology > Tropical Ecology

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