Landscape recovery and resilience in a badly degraded region, Tigray (Ethiopia): 1974 - 2006
KeywordsEarth and Environmental Sciences
Full recordShow full item record
AbstractThe 1972-1973 rains in northern Ethiopia were well below average and an ensuing drought caused crop failure and livelihood loss amongst the farming and nomadic populations. Experienced conservationists had already warned, even before this drought, that lack of a national landuse plan and of indigenous traditions or programmes of soil and water conservation (SWC), together with uncontrolled and unregulated cultivation on any slope where there was soil, were resulting in unsustainably high soil erosion, and excessive degradation of the land cover. This was thought to be spiralling downwards to a catastrophe, which would have an adverse impact on the rural economies that provided much of the food for the country. The effect of that drought exacerbated a desperate situation. The upland plateau region of Tigray (or Tigre, Tigrai) from 2000 to 4000 m a.s.l. was particularly badly hit as rainfed farming communities had no stored reserves. The UK response to this disaster in 1974 was a long-term technical assistance (TA) package - the Tigrai Rural Development Study (TRDS) that made in-depth baseline studies on soil conditions, geomorphology, landuse planning, livestock, vegetation and range ecology, surface and groundwater resources, demography, the rural economy, and institutions. Demonstrations in SWC and exclosing land were key interventions. Civil war forced cessation of the TA work in 1976 but the Tigray people began to initiate change and since then have made remarkable institutional reforms, applied SWC measures over large parts of upland Tigray and transformed a degraded landscape into a productive one where scars of the past are being healed. The TRDS team had taken many landscape photographs for monitoring purposes in this scenically stunning area. Repeat photography analysis at these sites in connection with advanced geomorphological research all over Tigray was able to provide a semi-quantitative assessment of change in the region. The Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE) and particularly changes in C (cover) and P (management) factors was applied to assess change. The study indicates that there has been a positive change to the landscape due to improved vegetation cover and introduction of physical SWC structures. The USLE application indicates that over a large area the current average soil loss would be around 68% of its 1975 rate. Whilst central gullying had increased dramatically in several areas, and some remnant forests were being degraded illegally, the repeat photography exercise demonstrated that there is a strong natural resilience in soils and vegetation allowing recovery from what appeared to be a quite hopeless and terminal situation and that SWC interventions are, as long claimed, highly appropriate.