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Cross-border Comparison of Post-socialist Farmland Abandonment in the Carpathians

Abstract

Agricultural areas are declining in many areas of the world, often because socio-economic and political changes make agriculture less profitable. The transition from centralized to market-oriented economies in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union after 1989 represented major economic and political changes, yet the resulting rates and spatial pattern of post-socialist farmland abandonment remain largely unknown. Remote sensing offers unique opportunities to map farmland abandonment, but automated assessments are challenging because phenology and crop types often vary substantially. We developed a change detection method based on support vector machines (SVM) to map farmland abandonment in the border triangle of Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine in the Carpathians from Landsat TM/ETM+ images from 1986, 1988, and 2000. Our SVM-based approach yielded an accurate change map (overall accuracy = 90.9%; kappa = 0.82), underpinning the potential of SVM to map complex land-use change processes such as farmland abandonment. Farmland abandonment was widespread in the study area (16.1% of the farmland used in socialist times), likely due to decreasing profitability of agriculture after 1989. We also found substantial differences in abandonment among the countries (13.9% in Poland, 20.7% in Slovakia, and 13.3% in Ukraine), and between previously collectivized farmland and farmland that remained private during socialism in Poland. These differences are likely due to differences in socialist land ownership patterns, post-socialist land reform strategies, and rural population density.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank M. Augustyn for helping in determining the boundary between collectivized and private land in the Polish Bieszczady mountains. Comments by T. Hawbaker, J. Kozak, D. Müller, S. Schmidt, W. Schwanghart, T. Veldkamp, and two anonymous reviewers greatly improved this manuscript. We are also grateful to C. Alcantara, M. Dubinin, and A. Prishchepov for valuable discussions and to A. Janz for assistance in implementing the SVM approach. Support by NASA’s Land Cover and Land Use Change (LCLUC) Program is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Tobias Kuemmerle.

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Kuemmerle, T., Hostert, P., Radeloff, V.C. et al. Cross-border Comparison of Post-socialist Farmland Abandonment in the Carpathians. Ecosystems 11, 614 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-008-9146-z

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Keywords

  • agricultural abandonment
  • cropland
  • forest transition
  • Carpathians
  • land use and land cover change
  • land reform
  • transition economies
  • change detection
  • support vector machines (SVM)
  • remote sensing