Policy ForumConservation Ecology

How can higher-yield farming help to spare nature?

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Science  29 Jan 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6272, pp. 450-451
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad0055

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  • RE: Conservation is the best option to spare land
    • Britaldo Silveira Soares-Filho, Professor, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais
    • Other Contributors:
      • David Lapola, Professor, Universidade Estadual Paulista, Rio Claro

    Phalan et al. (1) argue that increasing yields can spare land for nature in face of agriculture expansion. They list four mechanisms (MN) to prevent the derail of this strategy, i.e. land-use zoning, economic instruments, technology deployment, and certification. To support their claim, the authors cite the example of increased productivity on pasturelands in Brazil.

    Deforestation is a quest for land under the expectation that land will appreciate and thus become a valuable asset in the future; cattle ranching is the cheapest means to secure the claim over the land (2). Agricultural expansion and cattle ranching are therefore companions to deforestation.

    There is no sound evidence that increasing yields has spared land for nature in Brazil. Over the past 40 years, soy and sugarcane crops have expanded by 671% and 345% compared with a 111% and 62% in yield growth, respectively (3). In addition, cattle productivity in the Amazon continues low (4) to justify land sparing (LSP).

    That LSP through increase in agricultural yields works provided a whole set of constraints makes it in fact a consequence of those constraints, e.g. enforcement (5), clean supply chain agreements (6), and protected area expansion (7). The only effective zoning (1st MN) is protected area designation (7)―the main conservation strategy. Certification (4th MN) has often failed given that prize paid seldom covers required investments (8).

    Higher yields is an agricultural goal, no...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Land sparing and land use in synergy
    • Aldicir Scariot, Researcher, Embrapa Genetic Resources and Biotechnology
    • Other Contributors:
      • Miguel Alexiades, Professor, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent
      • Geraldo W Fernandes, Professor, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais and Stanford University
      • John H Vandermeer, Professor, University of Michigan
      • Jahi Chappell, Researcher, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
      • Britaldo S Soares Filho, Professor, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais
      • Fernando F Goulart, Researcher, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais
      • Bernardo Rainieri, Researcher, University of British Columbia
      • Eraldo Matricardi, Professor, Department of Forestry, University of Brasília

    Phalan et al. [1] advocate for land sparing, presenting four mechanisms through which higher-yielding farming can facilitate biodiversity conservation. Their analysis, however, overlooks several important considerations:

    i) Land sharing, un-acknowledged in this article [1], and discounted in a previous paper [2], is a fundamental component of the long-term conservation strategy of biodiverse-rich tropical countries. In Brazil, for instance, it accounts for 66% (1.023.189 km2) of the national conservation system [3], with an additional 13.6% (1.158.222 km2) of the country’s territory titled as indigenous lands [4]. The fact is that 11% of the planet’s forests are community-owned or managed [5] with figures between double to four times that in some regions [6, 7];

    ii) Land sparing often excludes or even displaces people, jeopardizing their livelihoods and generating social tensions that ultimately undermine the viability of any conservation strategy [8, 9, 10, 11, 12]; and

    iii) The authors disregard the critical role of temporal and spatial scales [11, 13]. Phalan et al., rely on a contemporary snapshot of biodiversity, and do not consider long-term ecological dynamics. As landscapes become fragmented the quality and composition of the matrix in which fragments are located becomes crucial; this can be as important as the number of protected fragments, and certainly more important than concepts such as productivity [14, 15]. Moreover, most landscapes are...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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