Call edition 2012

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Sediment-bound nutrient export from micro-dam catchments in Northern Ethiopia

Nigussie HAREGEWEYN researcher laureate

°1973 Ethiopia
Master of Soil Engineering and Water Conservation, Alemaya University, Ethiopia, 2000

Sediment-bound nutrient export from micro-dam catchments in Northern Ethiopia

Increasing soil erosion is a major problem many countries have to face up to. It is in fact the main environmental threat on agriculture, particularly in Africa. Let us remember that historians attribute the fall of several of the great civilizations of the past to poorly-controlled erosion. Today there are many factors that cause increased erosion and they are often linked to human activity (mainly climate change and poor use of soil: deforestation, agricultural practices, building, etc.). The numerous negative impacts include increased sedimentation in the catchments whose barrages were built in order to manage water resources better. High sedimentation levels cause a severe reduction in the efficiency and durability of these reservoirs on the one hand and on the other a loss of nutrients that are necessary to cultivation upstream.
Dr. N. Haregeweyn's study is situated within this frame. His work, a wonderful example of co-operation between Ethiopian and Belgian research units, has involved studying and quantifying the mechanisms at play in soil erosion and sediment and nutrient retention (nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon, potassium, calcium and magnesium) and consequently assessing their impact on the efficiency and cost of agricultural practices in Ethiopia. Several small basins are compared and recommendations for better management given. It is the first study of its kind to be carried out in Ethiopia, especially in the region where the loss of nutrients can not be easily compensated by fertilizers given the severe financial constraints to which the population is subject. This fact alone is enough to prove the significance of this work and its contribution to sustainable development. But that is not all, as the quality of the approach should also be stressed: this is an exhaustive end-to-end and multidisciplinary study, which is quite remarkable. The presented data is based on a large range of tools: geographical, chemical, agronomic, mathematical models and economic factors. The study has estimated the annual losses of nitrogen and phosphorus at 34.2 million euros for the Tigray region alone, which is considerable. As Dr N. Haregeweyn and his collaborators stress, it is now up to the politicians to put words into action and translate their results into sustainable management by favouring integrated practices for the management of soil fertility.

report: Dr. D. Cardinal, Department of Mineralogy and Geochemistry, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium