GLP Member Research in the News

New article: Land Sparing and Land Sharing Policies in Developing Countries – Drivers and Linkages to Scientific Debates

Related GLP Member: Ole Mertz


  • Land sparing policies dominate in developing countries.
  • Land sharing policies present, but are inferior and under-funded.
  • Highly diverse drivers of land policy making in developing countries.
  • Outcomes of land sparing and sharing policies also very diverse.
  • Little evidence of scientific impact on land policy making.


The need for developing land sparing or land sharing policies for protecting the environment has been a polarized debate in the scientific literature. Some studies show that “spared” landscapes with clearly separated intensive agriculture and pristine forest are better for biodiversity and other ecosystem services, whereas others demonstrate the benefits of “shared” mosaic landscapes composed of a mix of forest types, agricultural fields, grassland, and plantations. Increasingly, these scientific views have been depolarized, recognizing that both shared and spared landscapes have a role to play, depending on the context. However, it is less clear from the literature what drives actual policy-making related to land sparing and land sharing in developing countries and what the outcomes of these policies are. We therefore reviewed the international peer-reviewed literature for evidence of policies that aim at land sparing or land sharing in developing countries, the driving forces behind these policies and their outcomes. We also searched for evidence of whether the scientific debates have had an effect on land policy-making and explored the hypothesis that land sparing is the dominant land policy paradigm. We show that all countries represented in the studies have land sparing policies and half of them also have land sharing policies, although the latter appear inferior and under-funded. Drivers of land policies are very diverse, ranging from international commitments in conventions to various national-level pressures, but there is little evidence that scientific results have affected these policies. The policy outcomes in terms of ecosystem services and livelihoods are also very diverse. We conclude based on the studies reviewed that context is indeed very important for understanding different design and outcomes of land sparing and land sharing policies and that more evidence is needed on the processes for integration of rapidly evolving scientific debates in land policy-making in developing countries.

Key words

land sparing
land sharing
land use policy
agricultural intensification
science-policy interface