Changing Rural Landscapes in Albania: Cropland Abandonment and Forest Clearing in the Postsocialist Transition


Postsocialist transitions in eastern Europe have focused on the establishment of private property rights, often to the exclusion of other aspects of rural land-use systems. After the demise of socialism in 1991, Albania privatized virtually all agricultural land by redistributing formerly collective land on an equal per capita basis. This article examines the dramatic effects of the transition in general and the land reform in particular on Albania’s rural landscapes. A village-level survey was conducted to analyze household resources and constraints. The survey was integrated with data derived from satellite image interpretation and geographic information systems to develop statistical models of two key land-cover changes of interest: the abandonment of cropland and forest-cover loss. Statistical corrections were implemented to control for cross-scale interactions and geocomputation was employed to assess the goodness of fit of the models and the robustness of the results. Findings indicate that most cropland abandonment at the onset of the transition period was concentrated in marginal, less densely populated areas. More recently, abandonment was increasingly shaped by economic returns from cultivation and the growing competition with nonfarm livelihood strategies. Land fragmentation, an outcome of Albania’s land reform, was associated with greater abandonment in the later stages of transition. Patterns of forest clearing were subsistence driven and found around populated areas in the period immediately following the collapse of socialism, whereas more commercial clearing patterns emerged over time. Because of the range of social and environmental impacts of large-scale policy shifts, studies of postsocialist landscapes necessitate a multiscale spatial framework.

Annals of the Association of American Geographers