Call edition 2012

A new edition of the Prize of the Belgian Development Cooperation has been launched. This call is open until March 31st, 2011. You can read in the regulations whether you comply with the criteria for participation.

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Geomorphic response to human-induced environmental change in tropical mountain areas/The Austro Ecuatoriano as a case-study

Veerle VANACKER researcher laureate

°1976 Belgium
Master’s in geography, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, 1998

Geomorphic response to human-induced environmental change in tropical mountain areas/The Austro Ecuatoriano as a case-study

In many developing nations, the pressure on the land is great. Indeed, a fast-growing population needs to be fed. There is a general conviction that the increasing demand for food, combined with the use of inadequate agricultural techniques and the insufficient availability of fertilisers to meet the demand are leading to the ever faster degradation of soil and land via erosion and soil depletion.
However, there are very few studies in which an attempt is actually made to record changes in land use which have occurred in developing nations in recent decades, and to assess the consequences of those changes.
Veerle Vanacker’s work seeks to fill this gap for the Austro Ecuatoriano (the southern part of the Andes mountain range in Ecuador). Through the use of numerous techniques, she has succeeded in describing changes in soil use and in documenting their consequences. The conclusions are often surprising: thus, bringing additional farming land under cultivation turns out not to lead directly to erosion: most of the sediment that fills the reservoirs derives from paths and roads which are created to reach the new fields, or from erosion channels which are formed by leaking irrigation water.
The work also clearly illustrates the complexity of the issue. The increasing population pressure in the area has indeed led in some areas to deforestation and soil degradation, but in other areas, on the other hand, the phenomenon of reforestation has arisen, because the demand for wood (from the urban population) is increasing.
Veerle Vanacker’s work clearly shows that the degradation of the natural environment in developing nations often does not occur in the way that is generally assumed. The insights this prize-winning work provides into the changes in soil use in the Austro Ecuatoriano and their consequences are essential for working out policy measures which will contribute to the sustainable development in the area, for instance by careful planning of soil use. After all, a soil and land management policy can only be effective if it is based on accurate scientific information.

report by Prof. G. Govers, Department of Physical and Regional Geography, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium