Sparing land for nature: exploring the potential impact of changes in agricultural yield on the area needed for crop production

Balmford, Andrew, Green, Rhys E and Scharlemann, Jörn P W (2005) Sparing land for nature: exploring the potential impact of changes in agricultural yield on the area needed for crop production. Global Change Biology, 11 (10). pp. 1594-1605. ISSN 1354-1013

[img] PDF - Published Version
Restricted to Registered users only

Download (163kB)

Abstract

How can rapidly growing food demands be met with least adverse impact on nature? Two very different sorts of suggestions predominate in the literature: wildlife-friendly farming, whereby on-farm practices are made as benign to wildlife as possible (at the potential cost of decreasing yields); and land-sparing, in which farm yields are increased and pressure to convert land for agriculture thereby reduced (at the potential cost of decreasing wildlife populations on farmland). This paper is about one important aspect of the land-sparing idea - the sensitivity of future requirements for cropland to plausible variation in yield increases, relative to other variables. Focusing on the 23 most energetically important food crops, we use data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the United Nations Population Division (UNPD) to project plausible values for 2050 for population size, diet, yield, and trade, and then look at their effect on the area needed to meet demand for the 23 crops, for the developing and developed worlds in turn. Our calculations suggest that across developing countries, the area under those crops will need to increase very considerably by 2050 (by 23% under intermediate projections), and that plausible variation in average yield has as much bearing on the extent of that expansion as does variation in population size or per capita consumption; future cropland area varies far less under foreseeable variation in the net import of food from the rest of the world. By contrast, cropland area in developed countries is likely to decrease slightly by 2050 (by 4% under intermediate projections for those 23 crops), and will be less sensitive to variation in population growth, diet, yield, or trade. Other contentious aspects of the land-sparing idea require further scrutiny, but these results confirm its potential significance and suggest that conservationists should be as concerned about future agricultural yields as they are about population growth and rising per capita consumption

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Life Sciences > Evolution, Behaviour and Environment
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labour > HD0101 Land use
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH0001 Natural history (General) > QH0075 Nature conservation
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH0301 Biology > QH0540 Ecology
S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General)
Depositing User: Jorn Scharlemann
Date Deposited: 15 Nov 2012 08:03
Last Modified: 13 Mar 2017 12:21
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/42538

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update