Understanding and Mapping Land-Use and Land-Cover Change along Bolivia's Corredor Bioceancio



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The Corredor Bioceanico is a major transportation project connecting the agricultural heartlands of South America to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The final link is in southeastern Bolivia - an underdeveloped area that is home to two indigenous groups and globally-significant woodlands and wetlands. Infrastructure developments - comprising a major highway upgrade, revitalized railway services and increased flows along gas pipelines to Brazil - pose major threats to livelihoods and the region's ecological integrity. There are two broad objectives: (i) to map and quantify the spatial patterns of land change using a time-series of coarse and medium resolution satellite imagery; and (ii) to understand the socio-economic and political drivers of change by linking household surveys and interviews with farmers; environmental, climatic, and political data; and classified satellite imagery. Overall, large-scale deforestation has occurred along the Corredor Bioceanico for mechanized commercial production of oil-seed crops such as soybeans and sunflower. The significance of these findings is that agriculture-driven deforestation is pushing into sensitive areas threatening world-renowned ecosystems such as the Chaco, Chiquitano and Pantanal as well as noteworthy national parks. Though quantity remains relatively small compared to other parts of South America, rates of forest loss match or exceed those of more publicized regions such as Rondonia or Mato Grosso, Brazil. Moreover, rates of forest loss are accelerating linearly with time due to policies implemented by incumbent president Evo Morales. Results also show that in the first years of cultivation, pasture is the dominant land-use, but it quickly gives way to intensively cropped farmland. The main findings in terms of percentage area cleared according to forest type is that farmers appear to be favoring transitional forest types on deep and poorly drained soils of alluvial plains. Semi-structured interviews with farmers and representatives of key institutions illustrate that price determined by the global market is not proportionally the most dominant motive driving LULCC in the lowlands of Santa Cruz, Bolivia - an area seen as a quintessential neoliberal frontier.