Architecture of the global land acquisition system: applying the tools of network science to identify key vulnerabilities

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Global land acquisitions, often dubbed 'land grabbing' are increasingly becoming drivers of land change. We use the tools of network science to describe the connectivity of the global acquisition system. We find that 126 countries participate in this form of global land trade. Importers are concentrated in the Global North, the emerging economies of Asia, and the Middle East, while exporters are confined to the Global South and Eastern Europe. A small handful of countries account for the majority of land acquisitions (particularly China, the UK, and the US), the cumulative distribution of which is best described by a power law. We also find that countries with many land trading partners play a disproportionately central role in providing connectivity across the network with the shortest trading path between any two countries traversing either China, the US, or the UK over a third of the time. The land acquisition network is characterized by very few trading cliques and therefore characterized by a low degree of preferential trading or regionalization. We also show that countries with many export partners trade land with countries with few import partners, and vice versa, meaning that less developed countries have a large array of export partnerships with developed countries, but very few import partnerships (dissassortative relationship). Finally, we find that the structure of the network is potentially prone to propagating crises (e.g., if importing countries become dependent on crops exported from their land trading partners). This network analysis approach can be used to quantitatively analyze and understand telecoupled systems as well as to anticipate and diagnose the potential effects of telecoupling.
Original languageEnglish
Article number114006
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Physical Geography
  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • land grabbing
  • telecoupling
  • complex network
  • globalization
  • vulnerability
  • land systems science


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