Among the myriad complications involved in the current food crisis, the relationship between agriculture and the rest of nature is one of the most important yet remains only incompletely analyzed. Particularly in tropical areas, agriculture is frequently seen as the antithesis of the natural world, where the problem is framed as one of minimizing land devoted to agriculture so as to devote more to conservation of biodiversity and other ecosystem services. In particular, the "forest transition model" projects an overly optimistic vision of a future where increased agricultural intensification (to produce more per hectare) and/or increased rural-to-urban migration (to reduce the rural population that cuts forest for agriculture) suggests a near future of much tropical aforestation and higher agricultural production. Reviewing recent developments in ecological theory (showing the importance of migration between fragments and local extinction rates) coupled with empirical evidence, we argue that there is little to suggest that the forest transition model is useful for tropical areas, at least under current sociopolitical structures. A model that incorporates the agricultural matrix as an integral component of conservation programs is proposed. Furthermore, we suggest that this model will be most successful within a framework of small-scale agroecological production.