The pressures on land use

The world has a limited amount of land available for growing food. And the available land has increasing demands put on it.

It can be lost or degraded due to bad weather like floods or droughts. But the biggest threats are more directly related to humans, as:

  • the population grows.
  • life styles change – India and China, among other countries, now have huge numbers in the new middle classes. They want a “better” standard of living that imitates that of the West. They eat more meals a day and want products like meat – for that, the protein in grains has to be converted to meat protein so more land is given over to grazing animals. And the more demand for meat, the higher the price for grains.
  • the price of oil is going up – this affects farmers using tractors and insecticides. One response is to grow more crops for conversion to ethanol, which some people see as a 'green' fuel. But it is using up increasing amounts of the world’s agricultural lands, adding to the price of grains. A more sustainable response is to convert to low-input ecological methods.

Pressure on agriculture to become more industrialised squeezes out the smaller subsistence farmer.

Currently there are over 1 billion smallholders just in India and China. This sector tends to grow steadily and care for the land, but the people stay poor.

Wilderness and forests are encroached upon or even destroyed.

Indonesia, for example, is seeing large stretches of forest cut down for the wood. Wild animals are killed or displaced, like the orang utan; then the district goes over to oil palm farming. This oil is used in a lot of supermarket products like biscuits and in non-food products like fuel and soap.

» Biodiversity and Poverty: Ten Frequently Asked Questions – Ten Policy Implications (PDF). This report explores whether solutions for biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction can reinforce each other. It highlights: the need to clarify the different definitions of poverty, biodiversity and conservation to ensure that complex issues are not confused and misrepresented; the value of giving greater policy attention to how biodiversity can prevent poverty; and the importance of including safeguards in the design of conservation policy and projects, to ensure that poor people do not end up worse off.

» The relationship between, humans, wild animals and the environment: CASE STUDY: Zambia

» Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) works with families in rural farming communities in Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama to preserve our planet's tropical forests while overcoming poverty. Many areas that were until recently untouched now face severe environmental degradation and cultural loss. Organic vegetable gardens, wood-conserving stoves, biogas digesters are among the methods used in a five-phase approach: see SHI's Program overview.

» The GEF Small Grants Programme funds projects in biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation, protection of international waters, prevention of land degradation (primarily desertification and deforestation), and elimination of persistent organic pollutants through community-based approaches. You can apply for participation via the website.

» UNESCO offers the Educational resource kit for mountainous regions – for helping 10 to 15 year-olds living in mountainous areas to learn about environmental issues, such as soil erosion – and similar kits about Combating Desertification and for Dryland Countries.

» At rareplanet you can find out what it takes to launch a successful grass-roots conservation campaign that changes the way people relate to their environment. You can also connect with technical experts, policy makers and community organizers from around the world focusing on real conservation solutions in real communities – and contribute your own ideas. See, for example, KAWAWANA — coastal community conservation in Senegal.


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Jon Anderson
Jon Anderson
Environment Editor

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