Effects of land use, slope gradient, and soil and water conservation structures on runoff and soil loss in semi-arid Northern Ethiopia

Gebeyehu Taye, Jean Poesen, Bas Van Wesemael, Matthias Vanmaercke, Daniel Teka, Jozef Deckers, Tom Goosse, Willem Maetens, Jan Nyssen, Vincent Hallet, Nigussie Haregeweyn

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    Land degradation and recurrent drought are the major threats to rain-fed agriculture in the semi-arid Ethiopian highlands. Water harvesting has become a priority in the Tigray region since 1990. However, the success of water harvesting in reservoirs is limited due to reduced inflow. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of typical land-use types, slope gradients, and different soil and water conservation (SWC) structures on runoff and soil loss at the runoff-plot scale. Six runoff measuring sites, corresponding to three slope gradients, were established for cropland (cultivated land for annual crop production) and rangeland (heavily grazed land on hillslopes with high rock-fragment cover) at Mayleba catchment in Tigray, Ethiopia. SWC structures tested were stone bunds, trenches, and stone bunds with trenches, in addition to control plots. In total, 21 large runoff plots (with lengths of 60 to 100 m) were monitored daily for runoff production and soil loss during the main rainy season (July-September) in 2010. The results show that the seasonal runoff coefficient (RCs) representing the fraction of rainfall measured as runoff was much higher for rangeland (0.38 < RCs < 0.50) compared to that for cropland (0.11 < RCS < 0.15). Seasonal soil loss (SLs) values were five to six times larger on rangeland (28.6 < SLs < 50.0 ton ha-1) compared to that for cropland (4.6 < SLs < 11.4 ton ha-1). Stone bunds with trenches were the most effective SWC structures in reducing runoff and soil loss. With the same SWC structures installed, RCs and SLs for both rangeland and cropland tend to decrease with increasing slope gradient mainly due to a corresponding increase in rock-fragment cover. The effects of SWC structures on runoff production and soil loss are considerable; hence, it is crucial to consider these effects for optimal design of water-harvesting schemes such as micro-dams that collect and store surface runoff for irrigation development in the Ethiopian highlands.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)236-259
    Number of pages24
    JournalPhysical Geography
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2013


    • cropland
    • Ethiopian highlands
    • rangeland
    • runoff plot
    • soil erosion
    • stone bunds
    • trenches
    • water harvesting

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