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Title: Soil landscapes, land cover change and erosion features of the Central Plateau region of Tigrai, Ethiopia: Photo-monitoring with an interval of 30 years
Authors: Munro, R. Neil ×
Deckers, Jozef A.
Mitiku, Haile
Grove, A. T
Poesen, Jean
Nyssen, Jan #
Issue Date: Sep-2008
Publisher: Elsevier
Series Title: Catena vol:75 issue:1 pages:55-64
Abstract: Human land use of the Tigray landscape (north Ethiopia) can be traced back for at least 3000 years and is
recognizably very complex, but in the past half-century there have been multiple narratives on
environmental change in the Northern Ethiopian Highlands in which statements such as “the forest and
soil resources in Tigray are dwindling at unprecedented rates” are common. In an attempt to provide an
objective assessment, we made a semi-quantitative analysis of observed changes in the environment of the
central Tigray plateau, between 1975 and 2006, and its impact on soil erosion. The first part of this period
saw strong degradation, caused by a combination of drought, impoverishment, poor land husbandry and
war; but over the whole period intense rehabilitation activities have been high on the agenda. To study
these changes, two sets of 51 landscape photographs have been used. The older photo-set was taken in 1975
by R.N. Munro during the Tigrai Rural Development Study; locations were revisited in 2006 by J. Nyssen and
colleagues, when a new set of photographs was made at the same locations and with the same aspect. Based
on longstanding experience in soil erosion and landscape analysis worldwide and in Ethiopia, the timelapsed
photographs were rated for visible erosion, land cover and protective measures. We present a
quantitative evaluation of the change of soil loss by sheet and rill erosion, involving the Universal Soil Loss
Equation (USLE) and particularly the changes in the C (cover) and the P (management) factors. This allowed
assessing soil loss in 2006 as a percentage of the 1975 situation. Both the landscape and land unit analysis
show that the situation for natural resources has improved (and locally strongly improved) since 1974. The
rehabilitation is due both to improved vegetation cover and to physical conservation structures. The USLE
application indicates that in terms of a whole landscape the current average soil loss would be at around 68%
of its 1975 rate. Exceptionally, degradation is still ongoing around Desa'a forest and some other remnant
forests, and conservation should be strongly implemented too in these forests. On average, gullies have
expanded slightly since 1975, but these incisions appear to have originated in the drought years of the 1980s.
This photo-monitoring analysis invalidates hypotheses on (a) irreversibility of land degradation in Tigray;
and (b) futility of Soil and Water Conservation (SWC) programmes. The study demonstrates that (a) land
management has become an inherent part of the farming system in Tigray, and (b) that the authorities and
NGOs are on the right track when promoting SWC.
ISSN: 0341-8162
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IT
Appears in Collections:Division of Geography & Tourism
Division Soil and Water Management
× corresponding author
# (joint) last author

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