Recultivation of abandoned agricultural lands in Ukraine: Patterns and drivers


The recent rise in agricultural commodity prices and the expectation that high price will persist have triggered a wave of farmland expansion in regions where land resources are still available. One such region is the former Soviet Union, where the collapse of socialism caused massive agricultural abandonment and where some of these lands are now being brought back into production. Yet, the extent and spatial patterns of recultivation, and what determines these patterns, remains unclear. We examined the extent of recultivation of abandoned agricultural land in Ukraine since 2007 using a new, satellite-based recultivation map and assessed the effect of biophysical and socioeconomic determinants on recultivation patterns using boosted regression trees. We found key predictors of recultivation to be related to the suitability of land for agriculture (i.e., soil quality, temperature). Accessibility to major cities was also important, with most recultivation happening closer to settlements, but this influence varied across Ukraine. Variables related to agricultural management (fertilizer input, mechanization) and demography were negligible in explaining recultivation in our analyses. These factors suggest that recultivation patterns were primarily driven by factors related to land productivity, with recultivation focusing on the most promising areas. Given the remaining large amount of unused agricultural land in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and considering that much abandonment occurred in areas only marginally suited to agriculture, our findings provide important insights into where recultivation can be expected to happen and thus for assessing the potential socioeconomic and environmental impacts of recultivation.

Global Environmental Change