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Land Use And Land Cover In Ethiopia Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 5393 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This research will focus on population dynamics and effects on the state of natural resources and processes of degradation in the lowlands of Ethiopia. Many developing countries are using their natural resources at rates faster than the natural rate of replacement to sustain their rapid population growth; to generate foreign exchange; and to produce raw materials for industries. Millions of poor farmers destroy vast tracts of forest lands to make room for agricultural activities that will provide sufficient food for their household, community or country (Bartelmus, 1986; Drechsel et al., 2001; McNeill, 2006; Appiah et al., 2007).

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Agriculture, which dominates most of the African economies, has been the main focus of national development plans of governments. In line with this, a variety of land policies and reforms have been instituted in many African countries in an effort to improve the performance of the agricultural sector, but not always with success. In most countries, traditional agricultural practices and low productivity still persist despite major reforms and large monetary investments to transform the sector. Where agricultural innovations have been introduced, short-term successes have often been followed by long- term environmental problems (Miay, 1976; Drechsel et al., 2001; Appiah et al., 2007).

The most frequently occurring and rapidly accelerating problem related to agricultural activities is environmental degradation. In practice, most agricultural programs tend to place a heavy emphasis on increasing production and less on resource management and conservation. As a result, the social and environmental implications of population and land-use and land cover changes are overlooked until a serious physical deterioration occurs (Miay, 1976; Fischer, 1993; Davol, 1998; Makhanya, 2004; Long et al., 2006).

In Ethiopia, agriculture is the largest source of employment and foreign exchange: it supports some 85% of the working force, produces about 50% of the gross domestic product and generates over 90% of the country’s export earnings. Because the sector is overwhelmingly dominated by subsistence endeavors land degradation is widely prevalent (Dejene, 1990). This problem is further exacerbated by the heavy concentration of population and economic activities on climatically-favored highland areas of the country. The highland areas (defined as lands above 1,500 meters above sea level) constitute 40% of the total area of the country, 66% of the total cultivated land, 90 % of its arable land and nearly 45% of the grazing land, and support about 80% of the livestock and 88% of human population. As a result, these areas happen to be the most vulnerable and degraded physiographic regions in the country (Bruene, 1990; Woldemariam, 1990; McCann, 1995). As a consequence of population growth and heavy economic activities, land suitable for cultivation is running short in much of the highland regions of the country.

As a result, recent years have seen population relocation to the lowland areas where population size and densities are relatively low. However, this has brought about complex changes in the socio-cultural, economic and ecological conditions in the Beles valley of Metekel, northwest Ethiopia (Abute, 2002), one of the areas to which population shifts have taken place. Yntiso (2003) and Abute (2002) document these changes by indicating how massive resettlements in the 1980s have impoverished the indigenous population and created hostility among ethnic groups in Beles valley, Metekel. These studies, however, give much less emphasis to population dynamics and land use and land cover changes resulting from these changes. Assessing ongoing changes in population dynamics and land use and land cover in this region is vital given the fact that more development endeavors (for example, hydropower generation, irrigation, and mechanized agriculture) are being undertaken by the government. At three percent, this area also has one of the fastest population growth rates in the country (CSA, 2008). The consequences of all this on natural resources degradation and management need further investigations.

Review of Related Literature

This section reviews existing literature on population and environment interactions and the effects of these interactions. In doing so various perspectives on how population dynamics affects the environment are reviewed.

Views on Population Dynamics and the Environment

The study of the size, growth and characteristics of human population has a long history. Yet, there is no consensus pertaining to its consequential effects on the environment and the ways to solve the resultant problems (Jolly, 1994; Stock, 1995). Population experts offer four different perspectives (models) regarding population dynamics, consequences and ways of overcoming its effects. These perspectives include the models of classical economists, neo-classical economists, dependency and intermediate variables (Jolly, 1994; Stock, 1995; Kalipeni, 1996).

Classical economists argue that high population growth results in environmental degradation. Their theory is grounded on the work of economist Thomas Robert Malthus (1873) who argued that population grows faster than food supply. Furthermore, he suggests that humans have to take actions to reduce fertility. Consequently he suggested abstention from sexual intercourse and chastity. If population growth is left unchecked, he argued, natural checks such as famine, pestilence, and war will reduce population growth. Today, neo-Malthusian population experts like Paul Ehrlich and Garrett Hardin (cited in Sherbinin et al., 2007) and others believe that Malthus’ prophecy is currently happening in Africa where the pace at which population is growing is higher than the rate at which the economy is growing (Jolly, 1994; Stock, 1995; Muriithi, 1996; Panayotou, 2000; Drechsel et al., 2001; Perz et al., 2005). These experts suggest “fertility reduction as the key to preventing environmental destruction and to improve living standards” (Jolly, 1994:72; Sherbinin et al., 2007).

Neo-classical economists, on the other hand, stress that inefficient market and inappropriate pricing policy as the causes of environmental degradation (Jolly, 1994; Sherbinin et al., 2007). In other words, inept government policies are responsible for this problem. Jolly (1994:66) and Panayotou (2000) suggest a course of actions like “reducing subsidies that encourage over exploitation of resources, make people to pay full costs of using common resources” that make the market more efficient and effective as the best way to overcome this problem.

The proponents of the dependency model, on the other hand, argue that uneven distribution and consumption of resources is more culpable than population size and growth. In this case equitable distribution and consumption of resources is the obvious solution to tackle the problem (Jolly, 1994; Stock, 1995; Kalipeni, 1996; Perz et al., 2005; Sherbinin et al., 2007).

Proximate causes

Proximate causes

Other Factors

Environmental Factors

Soil quality, topography, etc

Biophysical Drivers

Fires, droughts, floods, etc

Social Events

Social disorder, sudden displacement, abrupt policy shifts, etc

Wood extraction

Fuel wood

Charcoal Production

Infrastructure Expansion




Public Service

Private Company

Agricultural Expansion

Permanent Cultivation

Shifting Cultivation

Cattle Ranching


Demographic factors

Natural increase






Cultural Factors

Public attitudes and beliefs

Individual & household behavior (unconcerned about resources, rent-seeking)

Policy and Institutional Factors

Formal Policies

(economic development, credit)

Policy climate


Property rights

Technological Factors

Agro Technical Change

( Intensification)

Agricultural production factor

Economic Factors

Market growth & Commercialization

Economic structure


Price increases, etc

Proximate and Underlying Causes of deforestation (Source: Geist & Lambin, 2002, figure 1, p. 3)

Underlying Causes

Figure 1.1: Conceptual framework of Proximate and Underlying Causes of land use and land cover changes (Source: Geist & Lambin, 2002, figure 1, p. 3)

Theorists known as the proximate determinists argue that high population growth alone does not cause environmental degradation. They contend that population increase should be linked to other factors to result in environmental degradation. In other words, high population increase aggravates resource loss in conjunction with other factors like level of technology, consumption, institutions, poverty and policies (Jolly, 1994; Turner, Meyer and Skole, 1994; Barrow, 1995; Lambin et al., 2001Carr et al., 2005; Perz et al., 2005; Harte, 2007; Pabi, 2007; Sherbinin et al., 2007).

In sum, there is no simple co-relation between population dynamics and environmental degradation. It is, however, very important to consider critically the relationship between environment and population and the resultant impact from demographic and non-demographic variables as indicated in the conceptual framework below (Figure 1.1).

Causes of Land Use and Land Cover Changes

This section reviews existing literature on causes of land use and land cover changes. In doing so, various empirical findings on causes of land use and land cover changes worldwide including Ethiopia are reviewed.

Land use and land cover changes are the results of the interplay of many factors. The simple assumption that land use and land cover changes have been caused by few factors do not hold true. Rather, many interrelated complex factors best explain the processes of land use and land cover changes (Lambin et al., 2001; Lambin et al., 2003; Liverman et al., 2008). The same authors further contend that “Identifying the causes of land-use change requires an understanding of how people make land-use decisions and how various factors interact in specific contexts to influence decision making on land use” (Lambin et al., 2003:216). Decision making processes in turn are affected by different factors prevailing at local, regional and global level.

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Different researchers have put the reasons for land use and land cover changes in two broad categories as proximate (direct) and underlying (indirect or root causes) (Geist & Lambin, 2002; Liverman et al., 2008). Lambin et al., (2003) further contend that proximate factors occur at local or household/farm level whereas underlying factors emanate from regional, country or even global level. As a consequence, proximate variables are context and region specific while the root causes on the other hand will be the result of complex political, economic and social conditions occurring at a distance. Farm level analysis allows to address proximate causes and to interpret them in reference to underlying causes (Mottet et al., 2006). Long, et al., (2007) identify industrialization, urbanization, population growth, and China’s economic reforms as major factors of land use changes in Kunshan. Another study in Zimbabwe also recognized that pressure for agricultural land, building materials and fuel wood triggered land use and land cover changes (Mapedza et al., 2003). The study by Brink and Eva (2009) also reveals that there is a significant degree of land use /cover change in Sub-Saharan Africa. These changes have resulted due to manmade and natural drivers related to high rate of population increase, economic development and globalization on one hand and natural hazards such as floods, landslides, drought and climate change on the other end of the spectrum (Brink and Eva, 2009).

The study conducted in Afar, Ethiopia, identified more than fifteen factors that cause land use and land cover changes (Tsegaye et al., 2010). The driving forces documented in the study include migration from nearby highlands triggered by drought, land tenure and government policy changes only to mention some (Tsegaye et al., 2010). Another study in the Central Rift Valley of Ethiopia reveals that population growth, decline in agricultural productivity, land tenure change and erratic rainfall have the major drivers of land use and land cover in the area (Garedew et al., 2009). The land use and land cover dynamics study in the northwestern Ethiopia suggests that population dynamics, exiting land tenure, institutional and socioeconomic conditions should be critically examined to put in place any land related policy (Zeleke & Hurni, 2001).

In sum, the factors that affect land use and land cover changes are complex and at time interrelated. Thus, the study of land use and land cover changes demands a careful investigation into these complex and interrelated factors at local, national and global level as indicated in the conceptual framework above (Figure 1.1).

Statement of the Problem

The impact of population dynamics, especially the absolute increase in human numbers each year due to natural increase and/or mobility, plays a crucial role in resource degradation. As population continues to expand in number, it exerts increased pressure on eco-system and natural resource stocks. One of the reasons for the shrinking size of land holdings as well as the degradation of forest, soil, and water resources in many areas of the developing world is the direct result of rapid population growth (Arnon, 1987; UNFPA, 1991; Drechsel et al., 2001; Etter et al., 2006; Pabi, 2007, Boone et al., 2007, Nguyen, 2008). Resources have to be created to meet the changing and rising demands of the people. The larger the number of people, the greater the density and the more will be the pressure on resources (Onwuka, 2006). Various studies indicate that there is a marked resource loss because of population pressure in Sub-Saharan Africa (Drechsel et al., 2001), Eastern Madagascar (Kull, 1998), China (Long et al., 2006) and Dominican Republic (Sambrook et al., 1999). Turner et al. (1994) also contend that land cover change stemming from human land uses represents a major source and a major element of global environmental change. The same authors underscore that human actions are altering the terrestrial environment at unprecedented rates, magnitudes, and spatial scales (1994).

In Ethiopia, too, fast population growth and uneven spatial distribution of population have been affecting resource use, leading to its gradual deterioration. Rapid population growth (currently exceeding 2.6 % per annum) is resulting in increased demands for additional arable land which is surely not adequately available (Mamo, 1990; CSA, 2008, Teferra, 2009). As Mamo and Teferra (1990, 2009) argue population growth leads further to unnecessary natural resource exploitation such as forest clearing both for farming and settlement purposes, short fallow periods, and land fragmentation which has a direct adverse effect on agricultural output.

Most of the population of Ethiopia is settled on the highlands, with the northern and central highlands being the oldest settled regions of the country. These regions are the most exploited and environmentally degraded areas in the entire country. Due to the shortage of arable land, land is continuously utilized year after year, thus giving diminishing yields (Kebede and Jacob, 1988; Assefa and Zegeye, 2003). This condition, coupled with the occurrence of recurrent drought and famine, has forced people from the northern and central highlands to move to the southern, southwestern and northwestern parts of the country for resettlement in both planned and spontaneous ways. These resettlements have resulted in population increase and consequent environmental and of natural resources depletion or degradation (Assefa and Zegeye, 2003; Paterson, 2007).

Resulting from the north-south move, a noticeable population change has gradually prevailed in the Metekel region, leading to increased pressure on existing resources. According to Yntiso (2003), resettlement has caused rapid changes in both the distribution and types of land cover and land-use in Metekel zone. Due to increased population resulting from the resettlement program, vegetation cover has been cleared and replaced by crop lands, the length of fallow period has been reduced and, more importantly, land degradation, deforestation and cultivation of marginal lands have become the order of the day (Dejene, 1990; Mamo, 1994; Yntiso, 2003). Furthermore, the livelihoods of the indigenous people (hunting, gathering, shifting cultivation and fishing) have substantially decreased due to significant land use and land cover changes (Abute, 2002; Yntiso, 2003).

Recent studies have also revealed that due to improvements in socio-economic conditions (for example, new construction of an all-weather road and government-led development programs), population size has increased in the northwest lowlands of Metekel. Land-use patterns have shown changes in this area as well. Migration from highland to lowland areas, voluntary as well as involuntary, has caused changes in the socioeconomic relations between migrants and the indigenous people by increasing conflict between them (Pender, 2001; Taddese, 2001; Yntiso, 2003; Patterson, 2007).

Over the past several years, a number of studies related to resource degradation have been carried out in many places of the Ethiopian highlands. However, similar studies related to population dynamics and land use and land cover changes in lowland areas are either scanty or non-existent. The above discussions testify that there is a significant land use and land cover changes in the study area since the 1980s. An assessment of the processes and factors leading to population dynamics and the resultant land use and land cover change becomes indispensable and timely to promote sustainable economic, social and ecological development in the study area in particular and the country in general. Such a study would also serve as a basis to influence development interventions and policy discussions related to population changes and natural resources degradation and management.

Objectives of the Study

The main objective of this thesis research is to investigate the impact that demographic and non-demographic variables have on land use and land cover and their effects on population and natural resources in Mandura district, northwest lowland of Ethiopia. The study also intends to suggest plausible policy option(s) to address the consequential problems in the study area. The study would include the following specific objectives:

To analyze the extent and patterns of population dynamics since the 1950s;

To investigate land use and land cover changes since the 1950s in the study area;

To examine the perception of people on trends and drivers of land use /cover changes and population dynamics in the study area;

To investigate the effects of policy changes on land use and land cover changes and population Dynamics;

To analyze livelihood changes since the 1950s in the study area.

Research Questions

Based on the stated objectives above, the principal research questions of this study, therefore,

are: how have demographic and non-demographic factors heighten land use and land cover

changes in Mandura district since the 1950s? What are the effects of such changes on the

population and the natural resources of the study area? Other sub-research questions will


What demographic changes had been taken place since the 1950s?

What are the extents of land use and land cover changes since the 1950s?

What are the major drivers of land use and land cover changes?

How do major actors at different levels perceive the changes in land use & land cover and population?

How have government policies (during the three regimes) intensified land use and land cover changes & population dynamics?

How have land use and land cover and population dynamics contributed to livelihood changes since the 1950s?

Development Relevance for Ethiopia/Africa

In the recent past, planned and spontaneous population relocation has taken place in the

Ethiopian lowlands where population size and densities are relatively low, including the study area of this research. Such relocations have undoubtedly brought about complex changes in the local economic, socio-cultural and ecological conditions. These complex changes in the study area have motivated me to undertake this research. The study will contribute to the development efforts in Ethiopia in particular and in Africa in general on the ground that:

Many African countries are experiencing rapid and accelerating population growth which has induced adverse effects on the environment. This study will thoroughly assess the degree and extent of population-induced adverse environmental changes and will attempts to provide possible solutions to address the problem.

Future development endeavourers in Ethiopia are shifting from the highlands to the lowlands where there exists low population pressure and ample agricultural land. This study will generate relevant information that will contributes to the development plans of the country.

The lowland areas of Ethiopia are the least studied parts as compared to highlands. The knowledge gained from this study could serve as a guide for future research/development activities.


Description of the Study Area

The study will be conducted in Mandura district, Metekel zone of Benshangul-Gumuz Regional state. Mandura is situated between 100.50′.743 N and 110.10′.766” N and 360.02′.48”E and 360.32′.42”E longitude, about 546 kilometers away from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. The total area of the district is about 1,045 square kilometer. Physiologically it is part of the northwestern lowlands where many development endeavors are currently taking place. The study will be undertaken in the district where the land use and land cover change is significantly high (Figure 1. 2).

According to the third Ethiopian national census, Metekel Zone has a total population of 235, 638 of which Mandura district constituted 15.52 % (36,568 people) (CSA, 2008). Climatically the study area is characterized by the following features. It receives rainfall from March to September. The mean annual maximum and minimum temperatures are 320C and 160C respectively (Kebede, 2006).

With regard to some bio-physical information, the study area has different types of woodlands and the soil is broadly classified as vertisols (black clay soils), Nitisols (red or reddish brown laterite soils) and intermediate soils of a blackish brown (Kebede, 2006).

Data Collection and Analysis

The triangulation mixed method specifically the concurrent triangulation approach is selected as research design. The concurrent mixed approach is a kind of research design where quantitative and qualitative data are gathered at the same time (Creswell, 2003; Gay et al., 2009). Creswell (2003)) and Gay et al., (2009) further contend that this method is used by the researcher in an attempt to substantiate, cross-validate, or confirm findings within a single study. The rationale behind selecting this approach is the research under consideration (population-environment interaction and identifying factors driving land use and land cover changes) is complex and needs to be examined from various angles. In addition, it demands the employment of diverse data collection instruments to capture as many factors as possible that explain land use and land cover changes in the study area. Furthermore, this strategy enables the researcher to collect data in a short time period (Creswell, 2003; Gay et al., 2009). To this end, both quantitative and qualitative data will be collected simultaneously using questionnaire survey, focus group discussion, intensive personal interviews, and field observations. Details are given below

Data for this study will be obtained through questionnaire survey, interpreting remotely sensed images, and aerial photograph interpretation to generate information on land use and land cover changes over time in the study area. Other researchers have used similar techniques (Tegene, 2002; Makhanya, 2004; Appiah et al., 2007 Rain et al., 2007; Sherbinin et al., 2007; Ningal et al., 2008; Salehi et al., 2008, Garedew et al., 2009). Also data pertaining to population dynamics, livelihood changes over time, causes and consequences of land use and land cover changes will be obtained using questionnaire survey, intensive interviews, focus group discussions, and field observations. Inherently, a study of resource- population interactions and land use and land cover changes need the employment of diverse methods so as to find out the many factors that involve in land use and land cover changes (Ewel, 2001; Tegene, 2002; Bewket, 2003; McCusker, 2004; Campbell et al., 2005:; Long et al., 2006).

Published and unpublished documents produced by governmental and non-governmental organizations will provide secondary data at different jurisdictional levels. For instance, the Central Statistical Agency (CSA), various regional state documents and FAO/UNDP provide information on land resources and land-use patterns.

The SPSS software will be used for statistical analysis. Below are details of data collection and methods of analysis for each objective of the research.

Objective 1: Analysis of population dynamics over time

Data related to population dynamics are obtained from publications generated by the Central Statistical Agency (CSA). These publications provide information on population size, growth, density, migration and urbanization over time at zonal and district levels. The national census results of the 1984, 1996 and 2007 are relevant in this regard. In depth interviews and focus group discussions will supplement this information.

Three study sites will be selected for this investigation. The sites selection is based on the degree of human interference assessed in terms of high degree of land use and land cover changes in comparison with other sites in the region. A Stratified random sampling technique will be used to select households for the survey. The selection involves two steps: First, households will be categorized into two strata: indigenous households and migrant or settler households. Second, household heads to be interviewed will be randomly selected from each stratum.

A total of 210 households (70 from each study sites; 35 for each stratum) will be randomly selected and surveyed using structured and pre-tested questionnaire. A sample size of 35 is believed to be adequate for analysis because with a sample size of 30 or more observations, it is possible to have estimates of accuracy from the mean (Clark and Hosking, 1986; Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2000). Simple frequency and contingency tables will be used to analyze the data. A group containing 8-10 elderly people with deep knowledge of the study sites will be selected for an in-depth interview and focus group discussions. Qualitative data will be analyzed following procedures given below. First the data collected will be described and classified. Then the data will be connected with each other depending upon their similarities and differences. “Classification is concerned with identifying coherent classes and connection on the other hand involves the identification and understanding of the relationships and association between different classes” (Kitchin & Tate, 2000:235).

Objective 2: Land use and land cover changes

Land use and land cover changes will be assessed by analyzing aerial photographs of different time periods (1950s and 1980s) using ArcGIS. Field visits will be carried out to reinforce the accuracy of the interpretation. Remotely sensed images will also be used to assess the current land use and land cover changes. Questionnaire surveys, in depth interview and focus group discussions will be arranged to generate additional information and to strengthen data generated from aerial photographs and remotely sensed images.

To properly understand land use and land cover dynamics, identification of independent (explanatory) and dependent variable is crucial. Accordingly, the independent (explanatory) variables will be population dynamics expressed as change in population size, growth rates, density, migration and settlement expansion. Additionally, government policies, existence of an all-weather road famine and drought will also be used as non-demographic explanatory variables. On the other hand, changes in proportion of cultivated land, changes in forest cover (bamboo and thickets), grasslands, and expansions of arable land will be dependent variables used to analyze land use and land cover dynamics. The data will be analyzed using simple frequency tables, cross tabulation and correlation coefficient to see whether or not there exists a relationship between the dependent and independent variables. Multivariate regression analysis is chosen (a) to determine the existence of significant relationships between demographic and non demographic factors and land use and land cover changes and (b) to assess the possibility of obtaining predictions from the equation. In addition, the identified variables mean are compared using the cross tabulation method. Correlation coefficients will be employed to figure out the existence of a relationship between demographic and non-demographic variables and land use and land cover changes. Multivariate analysis by way of discriminate analysis will be employed to ascertain the key factors determining land use and land cover changes in the study area. Focus group discussion, mapping, Semi-structured interview and other participatory methods will be employed to ascertain information gained from aerial photograph interpretation. These methods can give deep understanding about the timing and causes of land use and land cover changes than aerial photo analysis alone (Mapedza et al., 2003).

Objective 3: Investigating perception of people on trends and drivers of land use /cover changes and population dynamics;

This objective attempts to figure out people’s perception of the possible causes of land use and land cover changes. This can be attained by generating information through questionnaire surveys, in depth interviews and focus group discussions with, indigenous people, migrants, local experts and policy makers at different jurisdictional levels. The data will be analyzed using simple frequency tables, cross tabulation and correlation coefficient to find out if differences exist between the views of different actors on land use and land cover changes and population dynamics. Qualitative data will be analyzed following procedures given below. First the data collected will be described and classified. Then the data will be connected with each other depending upon their similarities and differences. “Classification is concerned with identifying coherent classes and connection on the other hand involves the identification and understanding of the relationships and association between different classes” (Kitchin & Tate, 2000:235).

Objective 4: Investigating effects of policy changes on land use and land cover and population dynamics

One of the issues this study will try to investigate is effects of go


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