War in Ukraine could escalate the global land rush

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A new study posits that impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine will fuel the resurgence of a new global rush for land, triggering agrarian transformations that have cascading and long-lasting structural effects on multiple dimensions of rural development. Environmental Governance researcher Jampel Dell’Angelo (VU Amsterdam) conducted this research, together with Paolo D’Odorico (UC Berkeley) and Maria Cristina Rulli (Politecnico of Milano).

In the new paper, published in Science , the researchers note that signals and evidence for new emerging pressures on land have been apparent following the beginning of the war in Ukraine, particularly in the Global South. While in recent years, fast increases in transnational large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) that were observed around and after the 2008 global food crisis have slowed down. LSLAs are defined as acquisitions of land of more than 200 hectares, through concession, purchase, or lease, for example for agricultural production, and forestry, in lowand middle-income countries.

Previous spikes in LSLAs were preceded by increasing prices of food, energy, and fertilizer associated with decreasing supply and/or rising demand. The onset of these trends has been a precursor of LSLAs. Therefore, the ongoing escalating prices combined with the insights developed on the post-2008 land rush, lead to the identification of early warning signals of a forthcoming surge of LSLAs. --In addition to the direct implications and destruction produced by the war, we argue that this conflict will lead to new controls on critical land resource--, says Dell-Angelo, lead author of this study.

Impacts on global agrarian system
The researchers anticipate that war in Ukraine will affect the global agrarian system through three main response mechanisms: expanding the domestic frontiers of agricultural cultivation over nonagricultural land, intensifying agricultural production in previously acquired LSLAs and provoking a new wave of LSLAs in the Global South. These three different pathways of agrarian transformation will produce substantial socioenvironmental impacts on rural systems in the Global South. Dispossession, marginalization, violent repression, and loss of income and labor of local rural communities are among the most problematic social aspects. Deforestation, biodiversity loss, depletion of water resources and contamination are the expected environmental outcomes.

Also, the effects of the war in Ukraine shall go beyond the Ukrainian borders. Decreased agricultural yields coupled with increased oil prices amongst other factors have taken a toll on global agricultural production. As argued by Dell-Angelo and colleagues, growing concerns about food security will act as a trigger for further land grabbing, as new opportunities will be sought for large-scale, commercial agriculture.

Policy implications
The paper also discusses the policy implications of the agrarian transition associated with this new wave of land acquisitions and invites decision-makers to question the fit of current global land and water grabbing governance arrangements (or lack thereof) and stresses the necessity to -empower local communities, support small-scale farmers, and develop effective and binding regulatory frameworks, institutions, and rigorous and strong land rights regimes-, says Dell-Angelo.