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Land transactions and investments: Impacts on agricultural production, ecosystem services, and food-energy security

Land transactions and investments: Impacts on agricultural production, ecosystem services, and food-energy security


Project Period: 2016-2020

Land transactions and resulting tenure alterations change how various actors interact with the land, and the well-being of human communities and environmental systems. Control over land enables the cultivation of new commodity crops, deployment of new agricultural practices and technologies, and sale of produced commodities for new uses and markets – with associated impacts on food-energy security, human well-being, and ecological processes. The scale and pace of changes in land ownership and access has increased rapidly in the past decade across the lower-income tropical countries where the United States, together with other higher income countries, has made large investments. The far-reaching scope and impacts of such transactions need to be addressed through rigorous, quantitative analyses. The project will assess outcomes of land transactions in Ethiopia – a country that has witnessed thousands of transactions and has substantial external investment, including from the United States – to identify when land transactions generate positive versus negative outcomes. We will focus in particular on agricultural, ecological, and food and energy security outcomes. Our research will generate new data that will be available for public use by other scholars and researchers, train scientists in the United States and build greater research capacity among our collaborators, and produce findings that will hold practical interest for decision makers in government agencies, NGOs, and donor organizations. Generalizable propositions from our work about the impacts of land tenure changes on farm level processes, producer incentives, and labor practices will also interest US investors in other regions.

The project will focus in particular on quantifying the nature and extent of

Burned sugarcane farm due to community member revenge in western Oromia, Ethiopia (Photo credit: Chuan Liao)

Burned sugarcane farm due to community member revenge in western Oromia, Ethiopia (Photo credit: Chuan Liao)

socioeconomic, land cover/change and ecological impacts, and modeling the causal sequences and feedback loops of land transactions. The research will advance the conceptual understanding of how tenure and institutional changes on land drive human-nature interactions and impacts in coupled agro-ecological systems. The project will aggregate and leverage existing socioeconomic datasets, and collect original social and ecological data from eight transaction sites. The research will contribute in three major ways towards an improved understanding of the effects of land transactions and the social and ecological effects of land tenure changes. It will: (1) Develop new theoretical insights into the livelihood, land use, and ecological effects of land tenure changes and displacement through integration, quantitative analyses, and agent based modeling based on multi-level social, economic, ecological, and biophysical data; (2) Enhance existing methods to understand and detect changes in land cover using remote sensing data for both agricultural and forest landscapes, particularly for the drier eastern African region; and (3) Improve statistical analysis and modeling-based predictions, in particular by developing better spatial analysis techniques, regarding varying patterns of livelihood and land cover changes resulting from land transition pathways associated with land transactions.