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New model for food production, biodiversity and land rights

12 April 2024
Large-scale food production is often framed as being at odds with protecting biodiversity, and expansion of industrial agriculture can also displace vulnerable communities. But according to new research by environmental geographer Camille Venier-Cambron this does not have to be the case. “It is possible to explore futures which meets our goals of food production, biodiversity conservation, and social justice.”

There is increasing competition for land use worldwide. This makes it difficult to ensure that there is enough land for both food production and biodiversity conservation. Existing spatial land-use models focus on total food production and set aside a certain part of the land for nature. On a large scale, this is efficient and helps minimize trade-offs between the two uses.

Problems with efficient models
However, there are two problems with this approach. Firstly, there are communities that are (partly) dependent on their local landscapes for their food supply. They run the risk of being displaced (land-grabbing) if their land is assigned for biodiversity or commodity production. A second problem is that these models which are spatially efficient at large scales ignore the ecological needs of land that is not designated as a priority area for biodiversity.

Exploratory scenario
In a new study in OneEarth, Venier-Cambron and her colleagues developed an exploratory scenario that considers future food supplies, but also protects local communities against land-grabbing. In this scenario, biodiversity is promoted across entire landscapes, rather than only in designated areas.

According to the researchers, this can be done by, on the one hand, intensifying agriculture, and on the other hand, by combining patches of nature within agricultural landscapes. This ensures that goals of both biodiversity and food production can be met. Additionally, their findings show that it is not necessary to displace land-dependent communities in order to meet global food or biodiversity goals.

Integrating biodiversity
Venier-Cambron: “To achieve a sustainable future in a just manner, it is first necessary to protect the land-rights of vulnerable communities. We then also need to integrate biodiversity into agricultural landscapes.”