Patterns and processes of agricultural abandonment in Eastern Europe
Alexander defined the region homogenous in agroclimatic conditions, in temperate zone of Eastern Europe. This study region spans several post-socialist countries, including Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, European Russia, Poland, which all share common starting point and experienced different trajectory. Using multi-date Landsat 30m remote sensing data for period from 1989 until 1999, he determined how much and where croplands were abandoned in these different countries. Monitoring of agricultural abandonment was not trivial because of the dynamic nature of the land cover, so Alexander spent lots of time testing important image dates in the field to collect data which further would be used for validating his results.
Results showed that 1.8 of 5.3 million hectares of agricultural lands in the study area were abandoned in the study region. Substantial differences in rates of abandoned agricultural lands existed between countries. Most of the lands were abandoned in those countries, where institutions were weak during the transition and privatization was incomplete (Latvia, Lithuania and Russia). Interestingly lowest percent of abandonment was in countries with very different trajectories of change, Belarus and Poland. In Belarus, abandonment was prevented by strict state regulations and support through subsidies, all agricultural lands remained in state property, while in Poland private property existed before the transition and percent of abandonment was low. Overall Alexander found that actual abandoned area was considerably larger than reported previously, which, given lack of official statistics on this topic highlighting good application for remote sensing approaches, that he used.
Abandoned lands might be used for conservation of biodiversity, but may also rationally returned to the agricultural production or used for producing biofuels. Though Alexander's study covers one agro-climatic region of Eastern Europe, it gives an idea of what vast areas were abandoned in former Socialist block in total and what huge potential it provides.