Local land use change decision-making in a global context

IVM Researchers Žiga Malek, Bianka Douw, Jasper van Vliet and Peter Verburg from the Environmental Geography Group investigated decision-making on local land-use change in a global context.

10/18/2019 | 2:34 PM

Their research was published in Environmental Research Letters. The scientists analysed the characteristics of over 750 individual decision-makers (objectives, attitudes and abilities) and classified them into 6 distinct classes of decision-making. They now know much more on what actually drives land use than before, particularly that the objectives behind them are much more complex and diverse.

Land-use change has transformed the majority of the terrestrial biosphere, impacting biodiversity, climate change, food production and provision of multiple ecosystem services. To improve our understanding of land-use change processes, the motivations and characteristics of land-use decision-makers need to be addressed more explicitly.

559 case studies
Here, the researchers systematically reviewed the literature between 1950 and 2018 that documents decision-making underlying land-use change processes. They found 315 publications reporting on 559 case studies worldwide that report on land-use decision-making in sufficient depth. In these cases, the researchers identified 758 land-use decision-makers. They clustered decision-makers based on their objectives, attitudes and abilities into six distinct types: survivalist, subsistence-oriented smallholder, market-oriented smallholder, professional commercialist, professional intensifier and eco-agriculturalist.

Survival and livelihood
Survival and livelihood were identified as most common objectives for land-use decision makers, followed by economic objectives. The researchers observed large differences in terms of decision-makers’ attitudes towards environmental values, and particularly their financial status, while decision makers have a generally favourable attitude towards change and legislation.

The majority of the documented decision-makers in the literature have only few abilities as they are poor and own small plots of land, while the wealthier decision-makers were identified to have more power and control over their decisions.

Based on a representativeness analysis, they found that decision-making processes in marginal areas, such as mountainous regions, are overrepresented in existing case study evidence, while remote areas and lowlands are under-represented. These insights can help in the design of better land-use change assessments, as well as to improve policies towards sustainable land use.