Patterns and drivers of post-socialist farmland abandonment in Western Ukraine


Farmland abandonment restructures rural landscapes in many regions worldwide in response to gradual industrialization and urbanization. In contrast, the political breakdown in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union triggered rapid and widespread farmland abandonment, but the spatial patterns of abandonment and its drivers are not well understood. Our goal was to map post-socialist farmland abandonment in Western Ukraine using Landsat images from 1986 to 2008, and to identify spatial determinants of abandonment using a combination of best-subsets linear regression models and hierarchical partitioning. Our results suggest that farmland abandonment was widespread in the study region, with abandonment rates of up to 56%. In total, 6600 km2 (30%) of the farmland used during socialism was abandoned after 1991. Topography, soil type, and population variables were the most important predictors to explain substantial spatial variation in abandonment rates. However, many of our a priori hypotheses about the direction of variable influence were rejected. Most importantly, abandonment rates were higher in the plains and lower in marginal areas. The growing importance of subsistence farming in the transition period, as well as off-farm income and remittances likely explain these patterns. The breakdown of socialism appears to have resulted in fundamentally different abandonment patterns in the Western Ukraine, where abandonment was a result of the institutional and economic shock, compared to those in Europe’s West, where abandonment resulted from long-term socio-economic transformation such as urbanization and industrialization.

Land Use Policy, 28(3) 552-562
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab