Condensing Farms to Save the Natural World and Reduce Greenhouse Gases

First Posted: Jan 29, 2016 07:27 AM EST

In order to save the environment, we may need to condense farms. Scientists have found that agricultural expansion is a leading cause of wild species loss and greenhouse gas emissions. However, as farming practices continue to be refined, more food can be produced per unit of land, which means less area is needed.

In this latest study, the researchers call for policymakers to harness the potential of higher-yield farming to spare land for conservation, instead of solely producing more food and profit. By minimizing the footprint of farming in this way, vital land could be spared for maintaining and restoring the rapidly dwindling natural world.

"Reconciling agriculture and conservation is one of this century's greatest challenges," said Ben Phalan, one of the researchers, in a news release. "To help meet that challenge, we need to move on from thinking about higher yields simply as a means to produce more food, and to use them to free up land for conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services."

With that said, policies to encourage higher farm yields need to avoid the "rebound effect." With this effect, food prices could drop which could encourage greater consumption and more food waste and more conversion of habitats to farmland.

"If a hectare of farmland is producing higher profits, farmers will charge more to give it up for conservation," said Phalan. "Halting agricultural intensification or expansion in one area may just shift pressure to farm in others. Increasing farm yields can help counter this 'leakage.'"

Zoning protected areas may also be necessary. And combinations of these mechanisms and more will make saving land from agriculture and sparing it for nature more likely.

The findings are published in the journal Science.

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