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Land-use changes associated with large-scale land transactions in Ethiopia

Tim G. Williams, Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering, University of Michigan, USA
Sadie A. Trush, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, USA
Jonathan A. Sullivan, School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan, USA; School of Geography, Development and Environment, University of Arizona, USA
Chuan Liao, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, USA
Nathan Chesterman, School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan, USA
Arun Agrawal, School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan, USA; Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan, USA
Seth D. Guikema, Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering, University of Michigan, USA; Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Michigan, USA
Daniel G. Brown, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, USA

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-12825-260434

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Abstract

Large-scale land transactions (LSLTs) can precipitate dramatic changes in land systems. Ethiopia has experienced one of the largest amounts of LSLTs in Africa, yet their effects on local land systems are poorly understood. In this study, we quantify the direct and indirect land use and land cover (LULC) changes associated with LSLTs at eight socio-environmentally diverse sites in central and western Ethiopia. To estimate these effects, we employ a novel, two-stage counterfactual analysis. We first use a region-growing procedure to identify a “control” site with comparable landscape-level characteristics to each LSLT. Then, we sample and reweight points within each control site to further improve covariate balance. This two-stage approach both controls for potential confounding factors at multiple spatial levels and reduces the costs of extensive LULC data classification. Our results show that the majority of the reported transacted area (62%) remained unconverted to large-scale agriculture. Most of the land that was developed into large-scale agriculture displaced smallholder agriculture (53%), followed by conversion of woodland/shrubland (35%) and forest (9%). Beyond their boundaries, LSLTs indirectly influenced rates of smallholder agricultural expansion and abandonment, pointing to site dependence in how LSLTs affect adjacent land systems. In particular, the low prevalence of forest within and around these LSLTs underscores a need to move beyond measures of deforestation as proxies for LSLT effects on land systems. Our two-stage approach shows promise as an efficient method for generating robust counterfactuals and thereby LULC change estimates in systems lacking wall-to-wall LULC data.

Key words

Ethiopia; land use/land cover change; large-scale land transactions; smallholder agriculture

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087