Farming for wild nature: integrating biodiversity and sustainable development in tropical agricultural landscapes in Africa

Agricultural land occupies around 38% of the planet’s land surface and the spread and intensification of agriculture are recognised as two of the most important global threats to wildlife. In developing countries, rapidly increasing human populations and per capita diet expectations are requiring ever increasing food production and there is a growing need to manage the agricultural footprint.

Agriculture impacts on biodiversity in two main ways: (i) through the clearance of pristine habitats for new planting or (ii) through the intensification of existing systems, resulting in increased yields per unit area. Several lines of evidence suggest that farming is changing and impacting on biodiversity faster in the developing than the developed world. Two possible solutions have been suggested: wildlife friendly farming (land sharing) - low intensity or extensive agriculture, supporting lower yields but higher levels of biodiversity and land sparing - areas are set aside for nature conservation and the remaining land farmed intensively with higher yields.
The choice, therefore, is between having a greater area of lower-yielding wildlife friendly farmland and less pristine habitat or having a smaller area of high yielding less wildlife friendly farmland and more area available for wild nature.

Rhys Green et al. (Science, 2005) constructed a theoretical model relating the population density of individual bird species to the yield per unit area of farmland. The way in which species density changes with increases in crop yield is key in determining whether a particular farming regime increases or decreases populations. Few studies have measured how population density changes across a range of production regimes; fewer still have simultaneously measured agricultural yields.

It is this crucial gap in knowledge that this project will address. By drawing on three existing data sets, relating to density of birds in farmland and forest and agricultural yields in the same area, this project  will assess whether the impacts of agricultural intensification on biodiversity can be ameliorated by having larger areas of low-intensity farming (land sharing), or by intensifying existing farmland in order to preserve pristine habitats (land sparing).

This project was funded by the CCI Collaborative Fund for Conservation.

Project Aims

This project aims to identify optimal agricultural land use strategies in a typical farming system in tropical east Africa (banana-coffee cropping in Uganda) with respect to levels of both biodiversity and agricultural yield.

Conservation Impact

The work represents one of the first applications of a novel theoretical assessment of the footprint of agriculture. It has great potential significance for conservation and we will work with GO and NGO partners in Uganda to promote this work with agricultural policy makers. By working with and through the Ugandan Agrobiodiversity Working Group (which includes the main agricultural policy makers) the results will feed into the revision of Uganda’s agricultural policies and will provide the basis for recommendations for future land use policy and practice in Uganda.

CCI partners Involved

British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is an independent scientific research trust specialising in impartial evidence-based knowledge and advice about populations, movements and ecology of birds and...
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) speaks out for birds and wildlife, tackling the problems that threaten our environment. It is the largest wildlife conservation organisation in...
The Department of Zoology carries out wide-ranging work in ecology and conservation including conservation science, aquatic ecology, pathogen evolution and evolutionary ecology. Research of the...

Other Organisations Involved

Related Resources

Resource Title Description Type
Conserving biodiversity on farmland - A guide to agriculture extension work This handbook is a revised version of the first edition which was based on results from a research project ““Conserving biodiversity on the modernising farmed landscapes of Uganda”” and the CCI... Working papers and reports
Conserving the Birds of Uganda’s Banana-Coffee Arc: Land Sparing and Land Sharing Compared The authors explore potential solutions by assessing whether land sparing (farming for high yield, potentially enabling the protection of non-farmland habitat), land sharing (lower yielding farming... Journal articles
Sustainable intensification of agriculture – the role of birds, bees and trees This policy brief is based on results from research carried out between 2006 and 2008 under the project “Conserving biodiversity on the modernising farmed landscapes of Uganda”. The project... Policy briefs
The importance of native trees for forest bird conservation in tropical farmland Trees in farmland provide valuable ecosystem services that enhance agricultural productivity and income, as well as supporting biodiversity such as birds. A better understanding of the benefits of... Journal articles