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Land use in Dogua Tembien, Tigray, Ethiopia

Jozef NAUDTS student laureate
jef_naudts@hotmail.com

°1978 Belgium
Bio-engineer environmental technology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, 2001

Land use in Dogua Tembien, Tigray, Ethiopia

The M.Sc. thesis of Ir. J. Naudts deals with the relationship between land use, land use performance indicators and land characteristics in a 200 ha study area in the highlands of northern Ethiopia (central Tigray). For this purpose, a detailed survey was undertaken in order to describe land use and land management practices at the field level and to derive quantitative estimates of land use performance, based on field indicators such as crop productivity on cropland, vegetation biomass on rangeland and grassland, and land degradation and biodiversity on fallow land. The survey was complemented by interviews and discussions with farmers. Statistical analysis was then used to assess how land characteristics such as moisture holding capacity, calcium carbonate content and soil aeration influence land use and land use performance.
As can be expected in areas with a long agricultural tradition, the study revealed that farmers generally know their land very well and grow crops in areas where favourable growth conditions can be ensured. However, as in most production systems where the risk of crop failure is high, present-day land use is focused on short-term returns and the need to ensure sufficient cereal production for subsistence, thereby threatening the sustainability of the system in the long run. High population pressure has meant that land fallowing is a practice that is quickly disappearing. This, together with stubble grazing by livestock after crop harvest, has resulted in soil fertility decline on arable land. Rangeland too is under a great threat as a result of overexploitation of the vegetation cover. A judicious use of fertilizer may help alleviate the soil fertility decline on cropland and reduce the land pressure. On grazing land, area closure and delayed grazing are two practices that can bring land degradation to a standstill.
The work of J. Naudts greatly enhances our knowledge about land use in the study area. For those government agencies and NGO's which try to promote greater sustainability in land use in the target area, improved knowledge about farmer decision making is essential in order to come up with viable options for change. This work is, therefore, highly relevant for decision makers, donor agencies or implementing agencies that do not have a good knowledge of or have lost contact with the farming realities of Central Tigray. As a matter of fact, the methodology developed in this study forms the basis for an on-going study over a wider geographical area by a local NGO.

report by Prof. Dr. C. Bielders, Department of environmental sciences and land management, Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium