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Kyle Davis


Wednesday February 03, 2021, from 12:30 - 1:30 pm on Zoom.


Large-scale land investments and their socio-environmental effects in the tropics



Tropical forests are vital for supporting global biodiversity, carbon storage, and local livelihoods, yet ongoing globalization has meant that remote factors exercise growing influence over these forests and their common-pool resources. Large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) by foreign investors have emerged as an important mechanism linking the demands of distal actors to forests in the Global South. These investments are executed with the goal of generating backflows of agricultural commodities to transnational investors, foreign governments, and global markets. Governments in targeted countries have often welcomed LSLAs in the name of facilitating agricultural technology transfers and the inflow of foreign capital as well as to encourage rural development and local job creation. Given the dramatic land use conversions that may need to occur in order for LSLAs to be put to productive use (e.g., from native forest to commercial monoculture), the proliferation of LSLAs suggests the potential for widespread impacts to natural systems. We employ a mixed methods approach, integrating information from diverse data sources to examine to what extent LSLAs have altered land use since the beginning of this century and how the development of these deals may affect biodiversity within contract areas. While our findings portend substantial degradation of natural habitats if current practices are applied in new or developing LSLAs, our assessment can provide valuable information for governments seeking to prevent unsustainable development through such investments. Given the vast extent over which LSLAs are granted globally, these deals – and the policies and regulations that govern their implementation – can play a key role in global conservation initiatives if managed to achieve both socio-economic and environmental co-benefits.



Dr. Davis is an Assistant Professor at the University of Delaware in the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences and the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and a Resident Faculty in the UD Data Science Institute ( His work focuses on food systems, water sustainability, and global environmental change. His current research in India, Nigeria, China, and the US combines environmental, economic, and social considerations with direct stakeholder engagement to inform agricultural decision making and to improve nutrition, environmental sustainability, and climate adaptation strategies. He also explores other human-environment interactions through projects on: the environmental and livelihoods impacts of large-scale land investments; variability and shock propagation through food trade networks; the relationship between human migration and global environmental change; and farmer coping strategies for climate variability and extremes.

Prior to joining UD in 2019, he was a Data Science Fellow and Earth Institute Fellow at Columbia University (New York) and a NatureNet Science Fellow with The Nature Conservancy. He earned his PhD in Environmental Sciences with a focus on Hydrology from the University of Virginia and is a proud graduate of UD.