Agricultural Land Use Change in Central and Northeast Thailand: Effects on Biomass Emissions, Soil Quality, and Rural Livelihoods

Principal Investigator: 
Varaprasad Bandaru
University of Maryland College Park

In South-Southeast Asia, the majority of the population is involved in agriculture. Land use change within agricultural landscapes, such as cropping system conversions or management adjustments, has been given little attention within land cover and land use change research. Yet such research is essential amidst policies to increase agricultural intensification, particularly in developing countries, and global efforts to develop sustainable agricultural production systems that improve food security and maintain the provision of ecosystem services (e.g. United Nations Sustainable Development). The recent South-Southeast Asia Research Initiative (SARI) workshop, Delhi highlighted the need for more attention towards land use change monitoring within agricultural landscapes and understanding the socio-economic and environmental impacts of these changes.

Recent changes in policy and market conditions have triggered rapid shifts in agricultural land use practices in Central and Northeast Thailand. Reductions in domestic rice prices and increased demand for bioenergy have led to declining rice and expanding sugarcane cultivation. This trend is expected to continue with support from the Thailand Government’s 5-year Agriculture Restructure Program (2015-2019). In addition to economic implications, this shift is expected to impact ecosystem services (e.g. soil and air quality), driven largely by the common practice of rice and sugarcane residue burning. Hence, it is essential to understand the implications of current and alternative residue management practices on economic, societal and environmental well-being of Central and Northeast Thailand. Given market forces, similar policies could be adopted in SouthSoutheast Asia. The overarching questions of the proposed research are: 1) How do recent agricultural land use changes impact ecosystem services and economic well-being in rural communities? 2) How do current and alternative management strategies affect soil quality? 3) What are the socio-economic impacts of change in crops and management? To address these questions, a US-based team of remote sensing scientists, crop modelers and social scientists together with scientists from the Joint Graduate School of Energy and Environment (JGSEE) in Thailand will conduct interdisciplinary land use research integrating remote sensing, field-scale research, agroecosystem modeling, and socioeconomic analysis. The goal is to understand the impacts of land use changes in Central and Northeast Thailand on biomass emissions, soil quality, and rural well-being. Our objectives are to: 1) map major cropping system conversions (e.g. rice to sugarcane) from 2010-2014 and 2014-2018 at 30-m resolution using a combination of satellite datasets, 2) implement remote sensing Environmental Policy Integrated Climate (RS-EPIC) modeling framework to quantify the impacts of residue burning and alternative residue management strategies under rice and sugarcane production on crop productivity, erosion and carbon cycling at 1-km resolution, 3) quantify spatially-explicit biomass emissions using an improved bottom-up approach, 4) implement a mathematical programming input-output modeling to quantify socio-economic impacts, and 5) understand farmers’ willingness to adopt sustainable practices and barriers and incentives to adaptation of these practices. Products developed here will inform regional land use and management planning and policy aimed at reducing emissions, meeting agricultural production demands, and ensuring rural well-being. Improved methodologies will be developed for monitoring land use change within agricultural landscapes, estimating biomass emissions and soil quality impacts, and understanding socio-economic impacts. These methodologies could be extended to other developing South Asian nations. Project analyses and methodologies will be shared broadly through targeted capacity building and training programs of SARI hubs.