Understanding Changes in Agricultural Land Use and Land Cover in the Breadbasket Area of the Ganges Basin 2000-2015: A Socioeconomic-Ecological Analysis

Principal Investigator: 
Liping Di
George Mason University

In South Asia, agriculture faces the remarkable challenge of feeding a growing population, projected to increase 43.8% by 2050, with extremely limited per capita arable land. Adding to the complexity of the challenge is the rapid economic development and urbanization over recent years, which competes for land with the agricultural sector and threatens the remaining forest cover. The Ganges Basin is the breadbasket of South Asia. Its agricultural outputs feed almost one-tenth of the world population. The densely populated region is home to numerous cities that have undergone rapid expansion in recent decades. Forest and wetland ecosystems are under increasing threats from intensified agricultural land use and pressure from urban spatial expansion. South Asia plays a central role in the global effort (such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals) to achieve sustainable development and food security. A deeper understanding of the drivers and socioeconomic and ecological impacts of land cover and land use change (LCLUC) in the basin is essential to better inform land use policies.

This proposed project will combine remote sensing and geographic information system (GIS) techniques with an integrated modeling approach to 1) identify and assess LCLUC that occurred in the major agricultural area of the Ganges Basin (including India and Bangladesh) during 2000; 2015; 2) identify and quantify the primary socioeconomic
drivers of LCLUC; 3) develop scenarios of future LCLUC (up to 2030) based on projected changes of key drivers; 4) evaluate the main impacts of LCLUC on key indicators of food and nutrition security, income, ecosystem services, land degradation, and resilience; and 5) disseminate research findings and reach out to stakeholders to ensure that the research helps to inform sustainable development strategies and responds to the needs of policy makers. In this project, LCLUC includes changes in agricultural land cover/use at three levels: 1) land use change from agricultural to non-agricultural use, or vice versa; 2) change in cropping systems, such as from rice to maize; and 3) change in the intensity of agricultural land use. The integrated modeling framework includes three modeling components: 1) a global agricultural partial equilibrium model, 2) a spatially explicit econometric land use model, and 3) an ecosystem services evaluation model. This research will enable us to answer some of the key scientific questions related to LCLUC in the basin: What are the dominant LCLUCs, including agricultural intensity and cropping system changes, in the breadbasket region of the Ganges Basin during 2000’2015? What are the major socioeconomic drivers of LCLUCs during 2000’2015 and how did economic development, population growth, and the accompanying structural transformation such as urbanization affect the changes? What are the impacts of LCLUCs on key indicators of food and nutrition security, income, ecosystem services, land degradation, and resilience?

This proposed project will make two novel contributions to NASAs LCLUC program. First, it will develop state-of-art remote-sensing techniques to identify level-2 and level-3 LCLUC in developing country context where farm and field sizes tend to be small. Second, this project will employ economic theories and methods, particularly an integrated modeling framework, to identify and quantify major drivers and impacts of LCLUC in the study area. This proposed project will contribute to the scientific knowledge base regarding integrated dynamics of LCLUC and socioeconomic systems at regional, national, and global scales, enhance evidence-based and science-guided decision-making concerning food security and sustainable agricultural development, and support the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.