Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
311RA: Dynamics and governance of emerging and active commodity frontiers in tropics - Part A
Thursday, 25/Apr/2019:
10:45am - 12:15pm

Session Chair: Ignacio Gasparri
Session Chair: Patrick Meyfroidt
Session Chair: Tobias Kuemmerle
Location: MB-220
Main Building, room 220, second floor, west wing, 154 (+22) seats
Session Topics:
How do we support transformation?

Session Abstract

Commodity frontiers are areas where the production of market-oriented agriculture and forestry expands rapidly over natural areas or subsistence-oriented land uses, often resulting in profound environmental and socio-economic impacts. These frontiers have been conceptualized as areas with an imbalance between abundant land and natural resources on the one hand, and comparatively scarce labor and capital to exploit these resources on the other. Commodity frontiers are also transition places, where processes of encounter between distinct modes of production and cultures take place, and where conflicts between land-use actors play out particularly heavily. Today, many active and emerging agricultural frontiers are found in the tropics, where some of the last remaining undeveloped land reserves occur, but where environmental and social costs of frontier expansion are typically stark.

This session will focus on emerging and active land-use frontiers in tropical regions. It will explore the patterns and causes of land-use and land-cover changes, linkages of these land trends with distant regions of production and consumption, the determinants of decision making of land-use agents, and conditions for transformative governance and land-use planning. We welcome contributions that address questions such as: Where are the emerging and the most dynamic active land use frontiers fuelled by commodities with rising demand? What are the rates, patterns, causes, and impacts of land system changes in these frontiers? How do local and distal agents make decisions, form coalitions, and mobilize to open up and shape new frontiers? How does the concept of frontiers help our understanding of land system dynamics? How do territorial policies such as land-use planning and land-use zoning function in rapidly changing frontiers? How do policy instruments interact with new forms of commodities supply-chain governance? How to improve pro-active governance of emerging frontiers towards more sustainable land systems?

Session Organizers: Ignacio Gasparri, Patrick Meyfroidt, and Tobias Kuemmerle

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Full talk
ID: 537 / 311RA: 1
311R Dynamics and governance of emerging and active commodity frontiers in tropics
Keywords: Pixel-based compositing, Land use change, Cropland dynamics, Large-scale land acquisitions, Google Earth Engine, Collect Earth, Mozambique

Pathways and spatial determinants of smallholder and large-scale agricultural expansion in the emerging frontier of Northern Mozambique

Adia Bey1, Patrick Meyfroidt1,3, Julieta Jetimane2, Sá Nogueira Lisboa2, Natasha Ribeiro2, Almeida Sitoe2

1UCLouvain, Belgium; 2Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique, Belgium; 3Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, Mozambique

In Mozambique, the average farmer cultivates one hectare of land, while the average land title for commercial food production is over 4,000 times larger. In this context, the expansion of the commodity frontier and the rise of large-scale land acquisitions is associated with marked changes in natural environments and livelihoods. Focusing on the emerging frontier of Mozambique’s four northern-most provinces, our study reconstructed and analyzed land-use change dynamics and pathways over the past 30 years. Firstly, we developed a new methodology for using multitemporal Landsat imagery to disaggregate land use dynamics linked to large-scale commercial agriculture versus small-scale extensive agriculture. We integrated categorical and continuous training and validation data obtained from field surveys and Collect Earth software within Google Earth Engine. We then examined the suitability of five pixel-based compositing techniques for generating cloud-free images that can support analysis of land use dynamics in persistently cloudy, mosaic landscapes. Drawing upon the spectral and textural features of Landsat data in pixel-based composites, we classified land use over 6 time periods (circa 1987, 1991, 1997, 2006, 2012 and 2017) and characterized land use change, focusing on changes between small-scale cropland, large-scale mechanized cropland, and other land uses. Secondly, we assessed the extent to which several key spatial determinants have influenced the expansion of the commodity frontier. We tested two hypotheses: (1) Large-scale agriculture and tree plantations expand preferentially on to lands already cleared for smallholder agriculture, rather than on forest; and (2) Large-scale agriculture and tree plantations expand preferentially on lands that are more easily accessed, with favorable agroecological conditions and with high population density. Lastly, drawing upon multidisciplinary research based upon surveys, interviews and focus groups with agribusiness investors, land rights advocacy organizations and small-scale farmers, we discuss some of the implications and potential applications of this research in Mozambique.

Full talk
ID: 495 / 311RA: 2
311R Dynamics and governance of emerging and active commodity frontiers in tropics
Keywords: Land-system change, Scenarios, Gran Chaco, Environmental impacts, Trade-offs

Scenarios of commodity frontier expansion in the Gran Chaco and their environmental impacts

Christian Levers1,2,3, María Piquer-Rodríguez1,4, Florian Gollnow5, Matthias Baumann1, Nestor Ignacio Gasparri4, Gregorio Ignacio Gavier-Pizarro6, Yann le Polain de Waroux7, Daniel Müller8,1,9, Robert Müller10, Jose Volante6, Tobias Kuemmerle1,9

1Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany; 2Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, Germany; 3University of British Columbia, Canada; 4Institute of Regional Ecology-CONICET, Argentina; 5National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), USA; 6Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria (INTA), Argentina; 7McGill University, Canada; 8Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies (IAMO), Germany; 9Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys), Germany; 10Independent researcher

Surging global demand for agricultural products drives the expansion of commodity frontiers into regions containing fertile land. One such region is the Gran Chaco, the largest dry forest region in South America that has recently become a global deforestation hotspot, mainly due to the expansion of industrialized crop production and cattle ranching. There is a growing concern about the substantial socio-environmental costs of agricultural frontiers in the Chaco, and how these frontiers might evolve. To better understand possible future land-systems pathways in the Chaco, and to assess the implications of advancing frontiers for carbon emissions and biodiversity, we mapped current land-system patterns for the entire Chaco and used that as a basis to simulate future frontier developments. Specifically, we simulated land-system pathways until 2045 using the land-change model alucR, and systematically explored how three policy alternatives (agri-business, ecomodernism, and diversification) modulated different land-demand projections and associated environmental impacts. Our scenarios spanned a wide range of land-system change, with a maximum semi-natural area conversion of about 216,000km² and a minimum conversion of about 46,500km², equalling 33% and 7% of the Chaco extent. Policy alternatives strongly modulated the conversion patterns concerning spatial extent (relative sd: 1.5 to 2.8%) and landscape composition. Some frontiers were projected to always expand regardless of demand and policy alternative (often near existing agricultural production areas), while other frontiers were only active in some scenarios. Environmental impacts depended strongly on the pathway simulated, but generally varied more across demand projections than across policy alternatives. Policies, particularly zoning, infrastructure development, and protected areas, modulated environmental impacts in major ways. Our results provide entry points for sustainable land management in the Chaco by providing spatially explicit information of the potential options space of future land-system states and their environmental trade-offs.

Flash talk
ID: 590 / 311RA: 3
311R Dynamics and governance of emerging and active commodity frontiers in tropics
Keywords: Global transformation processes, south-central Africa, land-use change, social-ecological systems, ecosystem decay, resource commodification

Transformation syndromes and the decay of socio-ecological systems in commodity frontiers in the Okavango Basin

Achim Röder1, Michael Pröpper2, Manfred Finckh3, Thomas Falk4, Marion Stellmes5, Susanne Stirn3, Mike Murray-Hudson6, Alexander Gröngröft7, Rasmus Revermann3, Anne Schneibel1, Torsten Weber8, Norbert Jürgens3

1Trier University, Dept.of Environmental Remote Sensing and Geoinformatics, Trier, Germany; 2University of Hamburg, Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology, Hamburg, Germany; 3University of Hamburg, Dept. of Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution of Plants, Hamburg, Germany; 4International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Patancheru, India; 5Freie Universität Berlin, Dept. of Remote Sensing and Geoinformatics, Berlin, Germany; 6University of Botswana, Okavango Research Institute, Maun, Botswana; 7University of Hamburg, Institute for Soil Science, Hamburg, Germany; 8Climate Service Center Germany (GERICS), Hamburg, Germany

Within the Miombo belt the tri-national Okavango Basin is one of the last remaining intact river basins in Africa. It supports highly diverse social-ecological systems with the majority of the population strongly depending on the direct provision of multiple ecosystem services. Following independence and peace treaties the region is now rapidly being transformed politically, economically and ecologically. In addition, there is an increasing interest of foreign investors and national elites for land and natural resources. This poses risks of accelerating conversion processes in the near future as well as growing inequality in resource distribution.

We provide an integrated analysis of changes in social-ecological systems driven by multiple anthropogenic transformation syndromes, i.e. Urbanization, Infrastructure development, Commodification, Smallholder encroachment, Agroindustrial investment, Water depletion and Anthropogenic fire.These syndromes each have their own societal drivers and system-specific responses that cause distinct patterns of system decay. Currently, these are mostly visible through processes related to smallholder agriculture and commodification of resources, often driven by shifts to consumerist lifestyles. However, large-scale agricultural schemes are increasingly appearing, suggesting the emergence of new production frontiers.In addition, feedback mechanisms between the syndromes accelerate the dynamics of transformation with climate change as an additional driver of long term system dynamics.

At the same time, governance frameworks in the region have so far neglected the transformative power of global value changes towards consumerism, and a societal discourse on development paradigms and antagonistic interests of rural versus urban societies, and of social elites and emerging middle classes versus rural poor is missing. Thus, current discussions on climate change adaptation and mitigation fail to take sufficient account of the relevant dynamics of resource degradation and environmental transformation in the region, with negative effects not only for the Okavango region but also for the whole Miombo belt.

Full talk
ID: 489 / 311RA: 4
311R Dynamics and governance of emerging and active commodity frontiers in tropics
Keywords: commodity booms; land use modelling; causal effects; deforestation; shifting cultivation;

Investigating the spatial pattern of a commodity boom through land system modelling - a case study from Laos.

Christine Ornetsmüller1,2, Jean-Christophe Castella3,4, Puwadej Thanichanon5, Guillaume Lestrelin6,7, Peter Verburg1,8

1IVM Institute for Environmental Studies, VU University Amsterdam; 2Commonland, The Netherlands; 3CIRAD, UPR AIDA, Vientiane, Lao PDR; 4AIDA, Univ Montpellier, CIRAD, Montpellier, France; 5Department of Geography, Ramkhamhaeng University, 2086 Ramkhamhaeng Rd, Bangkapi 10240, Bangkok, Thailand;; 6CIRAD, UMR TETIS, Tunis, Tunisia; 7TETIS, Université Montpellier, AgroParisTech, CIRAD, CNRS, IRSTEA, Montpellier, France; 8Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Zürcherstrasse 111, CH-8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland

Crop booms are phenomena of global environmental change that keep on occurring around the globe and frequently exploit or degrade the local socio-ecological resources (e.g. loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, indebtedness). While causal mechanisms were identified and summarized in several frameworks, the causal effects of the identified factors remained largely unknown. Using a spatial land system model, we examined in three experiments in how far different factors contributed to the spatial pattern of the maize boom between 2000 and 2016 in Sayaboury Province, Laos. The factors tested included land productivity, farm gate price, travel time to trader companies, slope, and soil types. While crop booms are commonly associated with high commodity prices and improved market accessibility, our simulation results suggested that the combination of geographic and economic factors was not sufficient to explain the spatial pattern of the crop boom. Interestingly though, increases in land productivity had the largest effect on model performance regarding the spatial extent of the maize boom. Thus, we conclude that the introduction of a series of techniques to increase agricultural productivity (i.e. hybrid maize cultivars, herbicides, mechanical tillage and sowing) were crucial for the boom to unfold. We outline implications of our findings for governance bodies that are faced with crop booms.

Full talk
ID: 749 / 311RA: 5
311R Dynamics and governance of emerging and active commodity frontiers in tropics
Keywords: emerging land-use frontiers, economies of anticipation, Mozambique, pioneers, land-use decisions

Pioneers, emerging land-use frontiers and economies of anticipation in northern Mozambique

Angela Kronenburg García1,2, Patrick Meyfroidt1,3

1UCLouvain, Belgium; 2Eduardo Mondlane University; 3F.R.S - FNRS

This paper brings two fields of study into dialogue, land systems science and the anthropology of the future, to analyze how ‘economies of anticipation’ shape land-use dynamics in emerging frontiers. Economies of anticipation are about future orientations (i.e. speculation, dreams, visions, hope, resignation, etc.) as actors realize that something is going to happen, and future-oriented practices (acting on these expectations).

We carried out ethnographic research in northern Mozambique over 2017-2018 through in-depth interviews, participant observation and analysis of secondary sources. The focus was on an emerging agricultural frontier in the western province of Niassa and an emerging extractive frontier in the eastern coastal province of Cabo Delgado. We explored future orientations and future-oriented practices by focusing on two types of pioneering actors that have played key roles in frontier emergence through their unusual motivations and trajectories. Missionary farmers were the first external actors to arrive to Niassa after the end of the civil war, and their legacies were then built on by successive waves of large-scale agricultural investments. Junior mining companies have been pioneering the emerging graphite frontier in Cabo Delgado. Graphite mining involves the resettlement of local communities, inducing indirect land-use changes.

We discuss how economies of anticipation have shaped land-use decisions. Missionary-influenced dreams and visions of local development have influenced the choice of agricultural business models in Niassa. Prospect of future profits following the (re-)discovery of mineral deposits has resulted in a corporate rush to mine graphite, but also ruby, gold and vanadium. Anticipation of the development of an expat community along the coast following natural gas investments there has resulted in the adaptation of agricultural business strategies towards high-value products. Anxiety over the future as well as hopes of a better life and expectations of employment is leading local communities to accept being resettled on marginal lands.

Full talk
ID: 255 / 311RA: 6
311R Dynamics and governance of emerging and active commodity frontiers in tropics
Keywords: Gran Chaco; commodity frontiers; transnational investments; land-use change; land grabbing

Transnational land investments and the formation of "producer cohorts" in South America’s commodity frontiers

Yann le Polain de Waroux

McGill University, Canada

Most of today’s agricultural frontiers in the Global South involve large-scale agricultural companies that operate across borders, following changing financial, economic and political conditions. While much has been written on large-scale land acquisitions by transnational companies and their social and ecological consequences, there is a relative lack of theoretically-informed empirical research on the decision-making of the actors driving these acquisitions. In this talk, I use the case of soy and cattle frontiers of the Gran Chaco and Chiquitano woodlands in Paraguay and Bolivia to explore the mechanisms behind transnational land acquisitions by agricultural producers in forest frontiers. In particular, I draw attention to the formation of “cohorts” of agricultural producers from a common origin who acquire land in the same destinations. Based on interviews with farmers and key informants and drawing from theoretical insights from the literatures on agricultural frontiers and international migration, I discuss the role of structural and agent-level factors in the formation and evolution of cohorts of Brazilian, Argentine, and Uruguayan producers from the mid-1990s to the 2010s. In doing so, I demonstrate that while these cohorts were fueled by large differentials in potential rents in regions of origin and destination, they were shaped by the ability of producers to mobilize capital or information, and catalyzed by the producers' personal networks.

Flash talk
ID: 321 / 311RA: 7
311R Dynamics and governance of emerging and active commodity frontiers in tropics
Keywords: Crop booms; land regime shifts; land use dynamics; frontier; borderland

Dynamics of crop booms and agricultural frontiers – the case of the northern Laos rubber boom

Victoria Junquera, Adrienne Grêt-Regamey

Planning of Landscape and Urban Systems, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH)

Crop booms in forest frontiers are a major contributor to global change and deforestation; they bring about large, rapid and frequently unpredictable land system changes and have thus been characterized as land system regime shifts. The goal of our work is to further the theory and understanding of crop booms and land regime shifts. In particular, we aim to explain crop boom dynamics (i.e., the timing, extent, and speed of change) by focusing on the underlying land use decisions. We analyze the smallholder-driven northern Laos rubber boom that took place in the last decade in Luang Namtha Province on the border to China. We use a combination of household surveys and interviews with various stakeholders to identify triggers and reinforcing effects at household and higher levels that help explain the timing and extent of the boom. We further develop a Bayesian network (i.e., probabilistic) model of land use decisions, showing the transmission, confluence, and relative importance of local and distant factors in household and village-level decisions to convert forest to rubber plantations. Our findings show that the expansion of rubber can in part be explained by external policy and price triggers, but that these drivers do not fully explain the timing and especially the virulence of the expansion. The transmission of new knowledge, but also arguably new norms, through social connections, and especially cross-border kinship networks, played a key role in rubber adoption decisions. We suggest that the rapid spread of rubber can mainly be explained by two factors: (i) land use change decisions at levels higher than the household, such as village-level decisions to convert communal forests, and (ii) individual behavior contingent on others’, including a rush for land and widespread imitation behavior. We find that imitation presented signs of herd behavior (imitation based on the assumption that others “cannot be wrong”), but also normativity and conformity: doing what others do, and having what others have, was a goal in itself. We propose a preliminary conceptualization of role of social ties and borderland dynamics in the spread of crop booms. We conclude with some thoughts about the relationship between crop booms and frontiers.

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