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Soil & Tillage Research 103 (2009) 197–202

Soil & Tillage Research 103 (2009) 197–202 Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Soil & Tillage Research

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Soil & Tillage Research

journal homepage: www.el sevier.com/locate/still

Research journal homepage: www.el sevier.com/locate/still Land degradation and soil and water conservation in tropical

Land degradation and soil and water conservation in tropical highlands

Jan Nyssen a , * , Jean Poesen b , Jozef Deckers c

a Department of Geography, Ghent University, Gent, Belgium b Physical and Regional Geography, K.U. Leuven, Leuven, Belgium c Division Soil and Water Management, K.U. Leuven, Leuven, Belgium

ARTICLE INFO

Keywords:

Desertification

HighLand2006

Land rehabilitation

Mountains

Nutrient management

Soil erosion

ABSTRACT

Land degradation is not uniform, even in the same landscape, but nevertheless an overall consensus seems to grow on the fact that many areas are under way of rehabilitation. It is a debateable question whether the improving areas are improving because of interventions—or whether this has more to do with processes of innovation and adaptation. The international symposium ‘HighLand2006’ on land degradation and land rehabilitation, held in Mekelle (Ethiopia), from 21 to 25 September 2006, created a forum for those conducting research in East African Highlands as well as in similar regions around the globe to discuss findings. Tropical highlands ( > 1000 m a.s.l.) cover 4.5 million km 2 with an average population density of 33 inhabitants km 2 . Nearly all tropical highlands suffer from land degradation, especially medium to very high water erosion. Exchange of experiences during in-door sessions and excursions led to results which are condensed in this special issue. Studies presented tend to invalidate hypotheses on irreversibility of land degradation in tropical mountain areas. Circumstances are that in highly degraded environments, with high pressure on the land, no other alternatives are left open but to improve land husbandry; and that this is particularly successful in places where decision making processes at different levels in society give the highest priority to the implementation of soil and water conservation and other land rehabilitation, in situ and at catchment level. 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Land degradation in tropical mountain areas and scope for rehabilitation

Due to their important altitudinal gradients, mountain regions receive much attention ( Becker and Bugmann, 2001 ). Mountain agriculture systems are vulnerable to environmental change for various reasons, such as the cost of accessibility and infrastructure as well as the limited opportunity for production gains associated with scale of operation ( Becker and Bugmann, 2001 ). Besides, in most tropical mountains, there are high population densities. In East Africa and Central America, there are far more than 100 inhabitants km 2 in all areas with an elevation over 2500 m a.s.l. ( Table 1 ). Short-term increase in agricultural production is often obtained through increased pressure on the land, i.e. reduced fallowing, removal of vegetation between cropland, conversion of forest and woodlands on steep slopes into rangeland and marginal arable land. According to the ‘Global Assessment of Soil Degradation’ map ( Oldeman et al., 1991 ), more than 50% of the northern Ethiopian

* Corresponding author. E-mail address: jan.nyssen@ugent.be (J. Nyssen).

0167-1987/$ – see front matter 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. doi: 10.1016/j.still.2008.08.002

highlands, for instance, suffer from extreme loss of topsoil due to sheet and rill erosion. Water erosion is a generalised problem in nearly all tropical mountains. In many tropical mountains, not the least in northern Ethiopia, huge efforts are undertaken to rehabilitate the land. However, the overall productivity of such areas is often perceived to be so dramatically damaged by human impact that recovery is deemed impossible ( Rasmussen et al., 2001; Reij and Steeds, 2003 ). However, several impact studies have demonstrated that investments in tropical mountains do pay off in economic terms ( Holden et al., 2005; Boyd and Turton, 2000 ). Degradation is not uniform, even in the same landscape, but nevertheless an overall consensus seems to grow on the fact that many areas are getting substantially better. In a recent exchange of thoughts, Stocking (2006) stated that it is a debateable question whether the improving areas are improving because of soil and water conservation interventions—or whether this has more to do with boserupian ( Boserup, 1981 ) processes of innovation and adaptation. Over the past decade, significant advances have been made by researchers analysing land rehabilitation efforts in these areas, and this special issue aims at presenting a representative set of studies ( Fig. 1 ).

198

Table 1 Tropical mountain regions ( > 1000 m a.s.l.)

J. Nyssen et al. / Soil & Tillage Research 103 (2009) 197–202

Sub-continent

Major highland

Area (1000 km 2 ) a

Population (10 6 ) a

Population density (km 2 ) a

 

Countries with

Farming systems b,c

Land

and mountain

 

mountain population > 40% a

 

degradation c

regions

>

1000

>

2500

>

1000

>

2500

>

1000

>

2500

 
 

m a.s.l.

m a.s.l.

m a.s.l.

m a.s.l.

m a.s.l.

m a.s.l.

 

Southeast Asia

Truong Son,

}

554

50

11

0.4

21

8

{

 

Upland intensive mixed s., upland extensive s., sparse forest s.

W(3–4)

Ningling

 

Shan,

Wuhi Shan

Oceania

New Guinea

Papua

W(1) S

 

New Guinea

South Asia

Himalaya

684

367

23

4

34

11

 

Bhutan

Highland mixed s.; sparse mountain s. Maize-bean (mesoamerican) s.

W(3–4)

Central America

Sierra Madre,

85

5

9

1

107

200

Guatemala,

W(3–4)

and Carribean

Cordillera de

Costa Rica,

Salamanca,

El Salvador,

Sierra Maestre

 

Honduras

South America

Andes

2033

1114

38

21

19

19

 

Bolivia,

Intensive highland

W(2–4)

 

Colombia,

(N

Andean) s.; high

E(2–4)

Peru, Ecuador

altitude mixed

 

(Central Andean) s.; sparse forest

(S

Andean) s.

Central Africa

Mitumbar,

170

6

6

0.4

38

67

 

Rwanda,

Highland perennial s.,

W(2–3)

Mutchinga,

Burundi

maize mixed s.

Congo-Nile

crest

East Africa

Ethiopian and

710

83

56

11

79

135

 

Eritrea,

Highland perennial s., highland temperate mixed s., maize mixed s. Maize mixed s., rice-tree crop system

W(2–4)

East African

Ethiopia

highlands

Southern Africa

Drakensberg

308

9

6

0.3

20

33

 

Lesotho,

W3 P3 C3

and Madagascar

 

Swaziland

range

West Africa

Hilly coastal

17

0

0.4

0

24

Tree-crop s.

 

areas

Total

4561

1634

151

38

33

23

 

a According to Huddleston et al. (2003) .

b According to Dixon et al. (2001) .

c Dominant types, according to Oldeman et al. (1991) ; W water erosion, E wind erosion, C chemical deterioration, P physical deterioration, S stable terrain; codes for degree of severity: 1 low, 2 medium, 3 high, 4 very high.

2. Northern Ethiopia, a focal place for studies on land degradation and rehabilitation in tropical mountains

Following the International Soil Conservation Organisation’s (ISCO) conference in Addis Ababa in 1989 ( Hurni and Kebede, 1992; Kebede and Hurni, 1992 ), it was the second time that Ethiopia could host a major international scientific event on land degradation and rehabilitation. In the framework of the United Nations proclamation of 2006 as the International Year of Deserts and Desertification, the international symposium ‘HighLand2006’ ( Poesen et al., 2006 ), held in Mekelle (Ethiopia), from 21 to 25 September 2006, created a forum for those conducting research in east African highlands as well as in similar regions around the globe ( Fig. 1 ) to discuss results and to exchange experiences during in-door sessions and excursions ( Fig. 2 ). The most important present-day geomorphic processes observed during the excursions are sheet and rill erosion throughout the country, gullying ( Fig. 2 ) in the highlands, and wind erosion in the Rift Valley and the peripheral lowlands ( Nyssen et al., 2004a ). With respect to recent environmental changes, temporal rain patterns, apart from the catastrophic impact of dry years on the degraded environment, cannot explain the current desertification in the driest parts of the country and the accompanying land degradation elsewhere. Causes are to be found in changing land use and land cover, which are expressions of human impact on the environment. Deforestation over the last 2000–3000 years was

probably not a linear process in Ethiopia. Studies on land use and land cover change show however a tendency, over the last decades, of increasing removal of remnant vegetation, which is slowed down or reversed in northern Ethiopia by a set-aside policy ( Nyssen et al., 2004a ). Given its physical geography and land use history, the north Ethiopian highlands were an ideal location to discuss these and related questions. ‘HighLand2006’ has allowed participants (1) to review current understanding of, (2) to report progress in, and (3) to identify priorities for future research in environmental change, geomorphic processes, land degradation and rehabilitation in tropical and subtropical highlands. Two major questions will be addressed in this special issue:

1. Which factors control the intensity of land degradation, its on- site and off-site impacts, in tropical mountains? This question addresses the role of natural and anthropogenic factors in the degradation of the vegetation cover and in controlling the intensity of hydrological processes, soil erosion, landsliding, reservoir sedimentation and flooding. 2. What is the effectiveness and efficiency of traditionally and recently introduced soil and water conservation techniques? In tropical highlands, large efforts have been made to conserve soil and water through a range of techniques (e.g. stone bunds ( Fig. 3 ), grass buffer strips, in situ land surface management, check dams ( Fig. 2 ), exclosures ( Fig. 4 ), small reservoirs, nutrient management, sediment excavation from reservoirs). Many

J. Nyssen et al. / Soil & Tillage Research 103 (2009) 197–202

199

al. / Soil & Tillage Research 103 (2009) 197–202 199 Fig. 1. Location map of the

Fig. 1. Location map of the case studies presented in this special issue (STR), as well as in the parallel special issue of ‘Catena’.

lessons can be learned regarding their effectiveness, efficiency and implementation in rural societies.

In parallel with this special issue of ‘‘Soil & Tillage Research’’, a number of selected papers on environmental change and geomorphological processes in tropical highlands are published

in a special issue of ‘‘Catena’’ ( Billi, 2008; Ciampalini et al., 2008; Fubelli et al., 2008; Kimaro et al., 2008; Moeyersons et al., 2008; Munro et al., 2008; Nigussie et al., 2008; Oliveira et al., 2008; Schmid et al., 2008; Turkelboom et al., 2008; Van de Wauw et al.,

2008 ).

3. Land degradation and rehabilitation studies

Needless to say, due to steep slopes and high population density, severe land degradation may occur in tropical highlands when not properly managed. Whereas on-site impacts of land degradation (and of conservation activities) are immediately felt by the farmers (as demonstrated in the studies presented in Section 4 ), the overall impact is much wider than the sum of individual losses or benefits. Case studies on land rehabilitation are often limited in space, time and scope; they may include better endowed regions and/or

and scope; they may include better endowed regions and/or Fig. 2. HighLand2006 participants and farmers discussed

Fig. 2. HighLand2006 participants and farmers discussed land rehabilitation issues, such as gully rehabilitation in the north Ethiopian highlands.

high-investment and nearby-monitored NGO-type of interven- tions. One might therefore question to what extent reports on recovery are representative of wider areas. Such impact studies typically do not include detailed botanical, hydrological and geomorphological components either ( Rohde and Hilhorst, 2001 ). It is precisely in the area around Mekelle that photo-monitoring studies could demonstrate an increase in vegetation cover over the last 30 years as well as a decrease in soil erosion rates ( Munro et al., 2008; Nyssen et al., 2007a ). An interesting aspect of landscape-wide studies is that they are beyond the scale of experimental plots and represent necessarily the ‘real world’. Similarly, in northern Ethiopia, Nyssen et al. (2008a) show that reforestation of the uplands has not only benefits for in situ soil conservation and regeneration, but has also led to strongly improved spring discharge in the bottomlands, leading to a major land use change with the expansion of irrigated farmland.

4. In situ surface and nutrient management for conservation of

tropical highland farms

Several studies on the evaluation of physical and biological soil and water conservation technologies in Ethiopia have been published ( Bosshart, 1997; Descheemaeker et al., 2006a, 2006b; Desta et al., 2005; Eweg et al., 1998; Fiedler and Gebeyehu, 1988; Hurni and Kebede, 1992; Kebede and Hurni, 1992; Kru¨ ger et al., 1997; Lakew and Morgan, 1996; Nyssen et al., 2000a, 2000b, 2004b, 2007b, 2008b; Vancampenhout et al., 2006; Wolde et al., 2007; Yohannes and Herweg, 2000 ), as in other tropical highlands (to name but a few: Braud et al. (2001) , De Noni et al. (2000) and Dercon et al. (2003) in the Andes, Kloosterboer and Eppink (1989) in Cabo Verde, or Mati and Veihe (2001) in savannah environments in Africa). A new paradigm was confirmed at the HighLand2006 con- ference, which is also reflected in the composition of this special issue: the great importance that is accorded to in situ management for soil conservation and land rehabilitation. Attention is given to experiments with alternative soil nutrient management systems, whereby soil nutrient replenishment treatments were tested in the Kenyan highlands ( Shisanya et al., 2008 ); and simulation models developed for the Ethiopian highlands ( Assefa and van Keulen, 2008 ) that can be used to explore long-term dynamics of soil C, N

200

J. Nyssen et al. / Soil & Tillage Research 103 (2009) 197–202

et al. / Soil & Tillage Research 103 (2009) 197–202 Fig. 3. Stone bunds for soil

Fig. 3. Stone bunds for soil and water conservation are aligned along the contour in May Leiba catchment, Tigray, Ethiopia.

and P in support of the design of appropriate farmland manage- ment for higher yields and improved livelihoods. Of particular interest in semi-arid mountains and other tropical areas is the in situ conservation ofwater and soil. The effectiveness of stone bunds and exclosures for soil and water conservation on the slope was studied earlier (for instance in Ethiopia: Descheemaeker et al., 2006a; Descheemaeker et al., 2006b; Desta et al., 2005; Nyssen et al., 2007a; Vancampenhout et al., 2006). At the same time it was however shown that these interventions (1) still allow soil and water to be lost and that (2) the conserved soil and water is being kept either outside of the farmland, or in narrow strips at the lower side of farmland. Hence the large number of emerging studies on farmland surfacemanagement. Engel et al. (2008) demonstrate how no-tillage cultivation in the Santa Catarina highlands, southern Brazil strongly reduces runoff and soil loss; and Tewodros et al. (2008), show how in Ethiopia, conservation agriculture with beds and furrows, shaped using the local ‘ard’ plough, leads to strong decreases in runoff and increases in soil water content. To broaden the picture, Govaerts et al. (2008) report on long-term experiments in the CentralMe´ xican highlands, whereby selected soil quality indicators (i.e. time-to- pond, aggregate distribution and soil moisture) are investigated to give insight into the feasibility of conservation agriculture as part of a sustainable production system in tropical highlands. Stroosnijder (2008) reviews soil water drought in Africa, which occurs where plant production suffers because water is not available due to deteriorated physical properties of soil. There is great potential to

physical properties of soil. There is great potential to Fig. 4. Land resilience on steep slopes

Fig. 4. Land resilience on steep slopes (exclosure since 9 years in Hechi, Tigray).

mitigate this type of drought via appropriate land management practices.

5. Conclusions

Studies presented in this special issue tend to invalidate hypotheses on (a) irreversibility of land degradation in tropical mountain areas; and (b) futility of SWC programmes. The studies furthermore demonstrate that (a) land management has become an inherent part of the farming system in several tropical mountain areas, (b) it is possible to reverse environmental degradation in these areas through an active, farmer-centred SWC policy, and (c) keeping small-scale farmers on their land by providing adequate levels of subsidies is an effective way to sustain the agricultural system of tropical mountain areas in the long term and to provide ecosystem services to the society. The challenges to be met include (a) in situ SWC of farmland in addition to contour terracing, (b) appropriate and concomitant soil nutrient management and (c) involving local communities in decision making about farmland management. Coming back to the issue whether land rehabilitation is due to interventions or to ‘‘boserupian’’ ( Boserup, 1981 ) processes of innovation, the papers in this special issue tend to demonstrate that rehabilitation is linked to both. In highly degraded environ- ments, with high pressure on the land, no other alternatives are left open but to improve land husbandry (‘‘more people – less erosion’’ – Tiffen et al., 1994 ). Furthermore, such rehabilitation will be particularly successful in regions where the highest priority at different levels in society is given to the implementation of soil and water conservation and other land rehabilitation.

Acknowledgements

Organisers and participants in the HighLand2006 conference are especially thanked for fuelling discussions during in-door and field sessions. This contributed significantly to shaping the papers published in this special issue. As a post-conference activity, some 50 scientists visited the May Zegzeg Integrated Watershed Management area, jointly with 200 farmers from the wide surroundings; again many issues regarding conservation could be raised there. The HighLand2006 conference was financially supported by VLIR, the Flemish Interuniversity Council (Belgium) and K.U.

J. Nyssen et al. / Soil & Tillage Research 103 (2009) 197–202

201

Leuven. During this conference and during the preparation of this special issue, J.N. was at the Division Soil and Water Management, K.U. Leuven, Belgium, and based at Mekelle University. We thank overseeing editors Rattan Lal and Miroslav Kutı´ lek as well as the reviewers (Abiye Astatke, Hilaire Desmedt, Hans Hurni, Jan-Peter Lesschen, Roel Merckx, John Quinton, Eric Roose, Francis Turkelboom, Lieven Van Holm, Bas van Wesemael, Ann Verdoodt, Gert Verstraeten) of the manuscripts submitted for this special issue. Without their efforts, this special issue would have been impossible to realise. Last but not least, Sofie Bruneel (Department Earth and Environmental Sciences, K.U.Leuven), handled in a very profes- sional way the crucial manuscript-submission-despatching- reminding-and-so-much-more process. Thanks a lot, Sofie!

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