The Global Land Rush: A Socio-Environmental Synthesis

Principal Investigator: 
Ariane de Bremond
University of Maryland

 This project conducts an integrated global synthesis of large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs), a growing phenomenon in the global South as governments and transnational investors seek to secure access to land in developing countries to produce food, bio-fuels, and non-agricultural commodities. Distant connections between land systems are not new, but rising evidence indicates that such cross-scaled telecoupled socio-economic and environmental interactions as a result of LSLAs have grown stronger, with more rapid feedbacks. The overarching question motivating our research is, What are the processes through which telecoupled LSLAs do or do not result in LCLUC globally, and with what consequences? Our general research question translates to the following specific questions: 1) What are the timing, type, and extent of land changes (or no change) associated with LSLA deals across the globe, and how are these land change outcomes related to variations in global, national, and sub-national social, economic, political, and biophysical contexts? 2) How are the socio-economic and indirect land-use change (iLUC) consequences of LSLA deals associated with particular causal factors and land change outcomes as reported in the local case-study literature? 3) What are the linked causal factors, land changes outcomes, and socio-economic and iLUC consequences (i.e., global archetypical pathways) of LSLA land change by region and intended-use? This project will employ several cutting-edge synthesis approaches and meta-analytic methods recently advanced in the land change science literature that combine interpretive synthesis of causal processes and consequences derived from the case study literature on LSLAs with integrative synthesis of remotely sensed land change outcomes of LSLAs and correlated with contextual variables. Specifically, we will use a combination of variable- and case-oriented meta-analysis methods to synthesize: findings from a now abundant set of localized case studies of LSLAs conducted from disciplinary perspectives as diverse as political ecology, land change science, and economic geography; satellite-based remote sensing data of verified LSLA sites (200+); time series of global, national, and sub-national geospatial datasets describing social, environmental, political, and economic contexts; and international agricultural commodity trade data to link changes in the supply of LSLA-related commodities to global production networks and final demand. Insights from the synthesis of these various sources of evidence will enable the construction of causal configurations (also referred to as archetypes, or pathways connecting LSLA causes, land change outcomes, and consequences globally. This analysis will build an understanding of the global patterns and regional nuances of LSLAs, and test a newly developed conceptual framework that promises to advance broader theory of LCLUC in a globalized world. This synthesis study promises to augment current regional-scale LCLUC research with a global view enabling not only understanding of telecoupling dynamics of LSLAs, but also the inter-regional differences of LSLA causes and consequences. This project will also advance synthesis methodology in LCLUC research by combining multiple meta-analytic techniques and remote sensing analysis to systematically test hypotheses about the location, timing, and consequences of LSLAs observed globally. The primary outcomes of this project include a unified explanatory model that links causes, land change outcomes, and socioeconomic consequences of LSLAs and archetypical pathways of LCLUC associated with LSLAs as well as methodological innovations that will enrich our knowledge about the recent and rapid expansion of LSLAs across the global South and, more broadly, advance the theory of telecoupled land change using LSLAs as the study system.