Why and where did farmers abandon their fields in the Ukraine?
To assess both the extent and possibly the drivers of farmland abandonment in the Ukraine, Matthias Baumann looked at a series of multi-temporal Landsat scenes between 1986 and 2008 for over 64,000 km2 of west and southwest Ukraine. Employing multi-date image stacks and Support Vector Machines (SVM), he mapped farmland abandonment over a variety of terrains - from areas high up in the Carpathian Mountains to the flatter plains and valleys at the base of the mountains. His results found that abandonment was widespread across the entire region, with 30% of all farmland being abandoned after 1991. The results were considerably variable by region however, with some areas showing abandonment rates as high as 56%.
Using remote sensing techniques, Matthias was able to pinpoint where farmland abandonment had occurred. He then utilized statistical techniques, notably hierarchical partitioning and best subsets linear regression, to assess and determine the drivers of abandonment. The results initially surprised Matthias.
Matthias thinks the reasons for these patterns are twofold. First, most of the farming in the higher elevations is in subsistence farming, while lower elevation and flatter area agriculture is more tied to market and social forces. Second, there are far more economic opportunities for younger people inside cities and market centers, leading to increased rates of abandonment in fertile areas close to cities as next generation farmers leave for better economic opportunities.
Matthias concludes: 'What this shows is that we have to be very careful when we try to generalize land use change and patterns of land use change because it differs significantly from the western world, and it also varies considerably within large regions that suffered the same economic shock.'