University of Michigan and University of Florida faculty awarded funding to study “land-grab” impacts

"Our research will provide information that can contribute in real ways to policy decisions that produce more sustainable outcomes.”

The Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) program of the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a grant of $1.6 million to study the impacts of land transactions and investments on agricultural production, ecosystem services, and food-energy security in Ethiopia.

Professor Arun Agrawal and Interim Dean and Professor Daniel Brown are leading the project from the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan in collaboration with Professor Jane Southworth, chair of the Department of Geography at the University of Florida.

“We are using a combination of satellite images, ecological field work, and social surveys to identify when large-scale land transactions generate positive versus negative outcomes," said Southworth. "We hope to discover generalizable knowledge about the impacts of land tenure changes on farm-level processes, ecological dynamics, and community well-being to help inform future land use policies.”

The grant will provide the resources to study the economic, social, and environmental impacts of large-scale land transactions in the African nation of Ethiopia—a region that has witnessed thousands of land transactions, or “land grabs,” which allow foreign investors, including those from the United States, to develop large-scale farms. The research will focus in particular on the outcomes of the investments on agricultural, ecological, and food and energy security.

The project will generate new data that will be available for use by other scholars and researchers, build greater research capacity among international collaborators, and produce findings that will support decision making by government agencies, NGOs, and donor organizations. “This work is vital in our understanding of how international development affects those regional environments and communities especially vulnerable to external control of their resources," said Agrawal.

"Our research will provide information that can contribute in real ways to policy decisions that produce more sustainable outcomes.” “It’s exciting to conduct this study in a region where our findings have the potential to make a real impact,” said Brown, “ and I am pleased that the importance of this research is recognized by NSF, and in addition, a similar project previously awarded funding from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).”

The start date of the CNH grant is September 1, 2016, with an estimated end date of August 31, 2020.