With respect to agriculture, land use generally changes in one of two directions: expansion or abandonment. The current global trend is one of expansion, however, there are a few key regions in which political,economic, social, and cultural changes are triggering cropland abandonment. This process is particularly marked in those post-Socialist countries of Eastern Europe including Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia, Romania, and Albania, although the latter two are the focus here. These nations have over the past two decades been integrated into a market economy. Government-led land reallocation has led to considerable fragmentation and land abandonment, which present both positive and negative environmental impacts.
Farmland Abandonment Driven by Post-Socialist Transition
The Carpathian Mountains of Romania are characterized by very high biological diversity of carnivores, herbivores, and plants (Gurung et al. 2009; Kuemmerle et al. 2009). Romania is home to approximately 228 endemic plant species and 1000 faunal species, with particularly large populations of the European brown bear and wolf (Ioras 2003).
After Socialism ended in 1991, Albania privatized nearly all of its farmland through the equal per capita redistribution of formerly collective land (Muller and Munroe 2008).
In just one county in Romania (Arges County), farmland abandonment reached the rate of 21.1% between 1990 and 2005 (Kuemmerle et al. 2009).
In the decade leading up to the end of Socialism, agriculture constituted roughly 40 percent of Romania's gross domestic product; as of 2007, agriculture's share of GDP has dropped to 4 percent.
Many of the species in these regions are actually dependent upon traditional farming landscapes, meaning that land abandonment and forest re-growth could threaten their survival (Kirby 2004).
There is a dearth of literature about recent land use change and agricultural abandonment in these regions, and thus many of the reports on change end in the early 2000's (Gurung et al. 2009). However, the trend witnessed in the 1990's can be extrapolated into the 2000's to illustrate the current situation of land abandonment in these countries.
Areas under agricultural cultivation are shrinking as a result of the socioeconomic changes implicated in the transition from a Socialist to a Western political system and economy (Kuemmerle et al. 2008). Simply put, as a nation modernizes, it becomes less profitable to center the economy on agricultural production. Additionally, as populations stabilize, the amount of agricultural land tends to contract, while the remaining agricultural land is intensified (Muller et al. 2009).
Cultural changes associated with post-Socialist modernization may have also contributed to cropland abandonment. According to Muller and Munroe (2008, 856), “cropland abandonment is arguably an important indicator of changing rural livelihood strategies in Albania… the abandonment of remote areas concomitant with massive internal and external migration.”
An expansion of the service sector together with accelerating international migration rates of Albanians have led to a contraction of the agricultural market (Muller and Munroe 2008).Prior to the transition, Albania's economy was dominated by agriculture, with half of the population employed by the agricultural sector (FAO 2006).
Albania's transition to a market economy complicated issues of land tenure, resulting in a mass turn toward non-farm opportunities, especially migration (Sikor, Muller, and Stahl 2009).
Prior to 1989, the Romanian government supported agricultural markets, allowing much of the population to maintain their livelihoods through agriculture.The collapse of Romania's Socialist system and subsequent land reforms led to a large scale shift in land ownership, and accordingly, in the way land is used (Kuemmerle et al. 2009).
Land abandonment in these countries has led to both reforestation as well as a displacement of existing cultivation into primary or secondary forest or vegetation (Muller and Munroe 2008).In the Carpathians, 16.1% of the land under cultivation during the Socialist era was abandoned between 1989 and 2000 (Kuemmerle et al. 2008).
Forest regrowth after land abandonment means increased carbon sequestration potential (Kuemmerle et al. 2009).
In areas where forests are degraded and land becomes highly fragmented, regional biodiversity may be significantly impacted, because both the Mediterranean Basin (Albania) and the Carpathians (Romania and Ukraine) have high levels of species endemism (Myers et al. 2000; Kuemmerle et al. 2009).
Forest clearing has continued to occur as many rural areas still rely on forest biomass for cooking and heating (Muller and Munroe 2008). qxzqxzqxz
In Albania, the trends of land abandonment location and pace have changed between 1991 and present; early on, it was concentrated in marginal, less densely populated areas, while more recently, commercial clearing patterns have become the dominant form of landscape alteration, reflecting the growing influence of market forces and the inflow of monetary gains (Muller and Munroe 2008).
Although the exact impacts of vegetation succession vary based on micro-climatic conditions, in general, the subsequent bush encroachment and primary and secondary forest regeneration will lead to impacts on soil conditions, carbon dynamics, and biodiversity, as several species are reliant upon traditional farming landscapes (Muller and Munroe 2008; Muller et al. 2009).
In addition to the biophysical impacts of farmland abandonment, the disintegration of an agricultural-based society has led to the disruption of the cultural landscapes that characterize these regions (Muller and Munroe 2008; Kuemmerle et al. 2009).
The level and effects of incorporation of these countries in the European Union (EU) remains to be seen. While Romania became a part of the EU in 2007, Albania remains to even become a candidate country.
In Albania, Romania, and other post-Socialist nations, further farmland abandonment is likely due to ongoing out-migration, the large number of expatriates sending remittances, and the older farming generations passing away (Muller and
International investments are crucial if biodiversity and cultural landscapes are to be preserved in these areas (Muller and Munroe 2008).
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