Land use study highlights need for policies to stop degradation

Working with rural communities in the Gumara-Maksegnit watershed in Ethiopia, ICARDA and national partners recently carried out a study of changes in land use from 1986 to 2007. The research, completed in 2011, reveals a drastic decrease in forest cover and grassland, creating a range of environmental problems that threaten local livelihoods. The study serves as a warning to policy makers that improvements must be made to land use policies to prevent further degradation of natural resources. Future policies must strive to find a balance between agricultural land use and sustainable forest management

Geographic information systems, satellite imagery, and the views of community members served as sources of information for the study. Researchers collected data from 118, 62, and 53 global positioning system points for cropland, forest, and grassland, respectively. Randomly selected households in the watershed were also interviewed.

The study showed that forest cover decreased steadily between 1986 and 1999 and again between 1999 and 2007. The greater amount of deforestation took place during the latter period, when 766 ha of forest cover was cleared, amounting to 13.71% of the watershed. The annual area of forest cleared for the whole period (1986 to 2007) was estimated at 50 ha/year.

Researchers noted that hardly any new forests had been planted on farmlands, farm boundaries, gullies, and homesteads. The study also indicated that the main reason for changes in forest cover is expansion of agricultural land.

Interviews with residents of the Gumara-Maksegnit watershed confirmed the findings derived from technical data. In addition, community members explained to ICARDA and national researchers that the deforestation has resulted in a range of environmental problems, including loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, drying out of streams and other water bodies, and a scarcity of fuel wood, fodder and construction materials.

To find out more about forest cover change in Gumara-Maksegnit watershed, Ethiopia, please contact Dr. Wondimu Bayuthe, National Project Coordinator, +251 913812515 or email wondimubayu@yahoo.com.

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