ASU mathematicians solve the problems of abandoned lands in the Republic of Buryatia

11 October 2019 Department of Information and Media Communications
Associate professors of the Department of Theoretical Cybernetics and Applied Mathematics at the Faculty of Mathematics and Information Technologies of Altai State University Elena V. Ponkina and Anastasia S. Manicheva participate in an all-Russian project to address the issue of abandoned lands in the Republic of Buryatia.

The work on the implementation of an interdisciplinary scientific project on the study of the involvement of abandoned lands in the Republic of Buryatia is carried out by a large team of scientists: Elena Ponkina and Anastasia Manicheva from Altai State University (Barnaul), Alexander Prishchepov from the Steppe Institute of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Orenburg), Olga Ekimovskaya from the Baikal Institute of Nature Management of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Ulan-Ude), Irina Belozertseva, Alexey Shekhovtsov and Daria Lopatina from V.B. Sochava Institute of Geography of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Irkutsk).

In the post-Soviet period, the area of sowing in the Republic of Buryatia decreased by 74% since 1995, therefore, the issues of involving abandoned lands in circulation are extremely important for the development of local agriculture.

The project, which received the support of the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, is designed for three years – from 2018 to 2020. The scientists are focused on solving important scientific and applied problems in the development of agricultural production in the region.

Researchers plan to develop a digital map of land use changes that have occurred in Buryatia since the 1990s. Using this map will allow assessing the actual area of unused former agricultural land, the degree of afforestation, the possibility of involvement in circulation. Such data will be useful for the implementation of regional agricultural policy. An important factor in involving abandoned agricultural land in circulation is the socio-economic conditions for the development of agricultural production, the motivation of local agricultural producers to expand the used land.

“Buryatia is a unique place for research. This is an ethnic region with its own specifics. There are unfavorable climatic conditions for the development of agriculture, and permafrost is present in some areas, which is why the issues of fodder storage and grain cultivation are especially acute. The first year of the project was devoted to the formation of a database on the region and the development of methods at pilot sites. Preliminary results of the first year of the project were presented for discussion by Russian and international experts in the field of ecology and agricultural economics, in particular, as part of the international agrarian forum held in June 2019 in Germany,” Elena Ponkina said.

The meeting of the project team and experts from the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Buryatia and the Minister of Agriculture Daba-Zhalsan Shagzhievich Chiripov was interesting and productive. The Minister confirmed the high significance of the expected results and said that solving the problem of abandoned land in the republic was a dream of the region.

“At the meeting, we discussed the results that may be of most interest to the ministry and secured the support of the Minister in the implementation of the project. We also conducted field work in several regions of the republic. It was important for us to understand the spatial specifics of the location of abandoned lands, possible natural and economic restrictions on the involvement of these sites in the turnover,” ASU scientist said.

According to the international expert on abandoned lands in the post-Soviet countries, the inspirer and ideologist of this project, Alexander Prishchepov, the digital map created for the abandoned lands of Buryatia is a unique material that is designed to help solve pressing agricultural problems of the region. The results of processing remote sensing data are synthesized with the statistics and the survey of farmers. This is interesting in all respects, as it gives a more complete picture.

“If, for example, economists in their studies rely on the results of statistical observation or questionnaires and pay little attention to natural and spatial factors (for example, remoteness from markets, temperature distribution), then we try to take into account many different factors together (economic, social, natural and spatial ones). And here it is interesting to use various data processing methods, for example, machine learning methods, or Bayesian networks (this is a probabilistic model, which is a set of variables and their probabilistic dependencies). That is, we maximize the use of mathematics and computer science in our work. In addition, we are well aware that sitting in your office you won’t make a good applied model, so we go on trips and conduct on-site studies, process the data of socio-economic analysis and test hypotheses,” Elena Ponkina emphasized. “During the trip, we discussed plans for the development of existing results, a plan for the publication in leading international scientific journals and further development of cooperation with scientists of the Russian Academy of Sciences in the framework of new joint projects. The plans also include holding a scientific and practical seminar on the problems of the project in 2020, presenting the results at leading scientific events in Europe and Russia. ”

ASU scientist added that work experience in another region was important in terms of expanding the research area. This increases the chances of publishing research results in good journals, for example, such as Global Environmental Change, Environmental Research Letters, or Land Use Policy. The chances of forming a team of competitive scientists to receive large grants are also increasing.

It remains to be added that the problem of abandonment or withdrawal from circulation of agricultural land is acute not only in the Russian Federation, but also in other countries of the world. Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan represent states where significant areas of arable land were withdrawn from circulation in the post-Soviet period. According to the results of the agricultural census of 2016, the area of unused land in Russia reaches 60-80 million hectares. Putting into circulation abandoned agricultural land is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to its study.

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