Mapping the extent of abandoned farmland in Central and Eastern Europe using MODIS time series satellite data


The demand for agricultural products continues to grow rapidly, but further agricultural expansion entails substantial environmental costs, making recultivating currently unused farmland an interesting alternative. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to widespread abandonment of agricultural lands, but the extent and spatial patterns of abandonment are unclear. We quantified the extent of abandoned farmland, both croplands and pastures, across the region using MODIS NDVI satellite image time series from 2004 to 2006 and support vector machine classifications. Abandoned farmland was widespread, totaling 52.5 Mha, particularly in temperate European Russia (32 Mha), northern and western Ukraine, and Belarus. Differences in abandonment rates among countries were striking, suggesting that institutional and socio-economic factors were more important in determining the amount of abandonment than biophysical conditions. Indeed, much abandoned farmland occurred in areas without major constraints for agriculture. Our map provides a basis for assessing the potential of Central and Eastern Europe’s abandoned agricultural lands to contribute to food or bioenergy production, or carbon storage, as well as the environmental trade-offs and social constraints of recultivation.

Environmental Research Letters
Patrick Hostert
Patrick Hostert
Principal Investigator