Localized versus wide-ranging effects of the post-Soviet wars in the Caucasus on agricultural abandonment


Wars are frequent and can affect land use substantially, but the effects of wars can vary greatly depending on their characteristics, such as intensity or duration. Furthermore, the spatial scale of the effects can differ. The effects of wars may be localized and thus close to conflict locations if direct mechanisms matter most (e.g., abandonment because active fighting precludes farming), or wide-ranging, e.g., farther away from conflict locations, if indirect mechanisms predominate (e.g., no access to agricultural inputs). Our goal was to quantify how the very different wars in the Caucasus region during post-Soviet times most likely affected agricultural abandonment at different scales. We analyzed data on conflict locations plus Landsat-derived land-cover data from 1987 to 2015, and applied matching statistics, difference-in-differences estimators, and logistic panel regressions. We examined the localized versus wide-ranging effects of the different wars on permanent agricultural abandonment and inferred to direct and indirect mechanisms that may have resulted in agricultural abandonment. While permanent agricultural abandonment was overall surprisingly limited across the Caucasus, up to one third of abandonment was most likely related to the wars. Among the wars, the war in Chechnya was by far the most intense and longest, but its effect on abandonment was similar to the less intense and relatively short war in Abkhazia. 47 % and 45 % of agricultural abandonment was related to each war, respectively. The reason was that the effect of the war in Chechnya was more localized, and abandonment occurred near conflict locations, in contrast to Abkhazia, where the effect was wide-ranging and abandonment occurred farther away from conflict locations. In contrast, the war in South Ossetia showed no significant effect on abandonment, and the war in Nagorno-Karabakh had the surprising pattern that abandonment was higher where no war had occurred. For each of the wars, abandonment was predominately related to the nearest conflict locations, but in Abkhazia additional conflict locations within 10 km further increased the probability of abandonment. We infer that the direct mechanisms of the war such as bombing, and active fighting most likely resulted in a localized effect close to conflict locations in Chechnya and in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, in Nagorno-Karabakh subsidies for new settlers after the war, (i.e., a positive wide-ranging effect), potentially reduced the amount of abandonment there. In contrast, negative wide-ranging effects such as refugee movements and post-war restrictions on their return is related to broad-scale abandonment in Abkhazia. In summary, permanent agricultural abandonment was not necessarily higher in a war with a high overall intensity. Instead, the effect of a given war varied in scale, and was related to the relative importance of direct and localized versus indirect and wide-ranging mechanisms, including postwar events and policies, which is likely the case for other wars, too.

Global Environmental Change, 76
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab