Journal of Arid Land

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 249–263 | Cite as

Efficiency of soil and water conservation practices in different agro-ecological environments in the Upper Blue Nile Basin of Ethiopia

  • Dagnenet Sultan
  • Atsushi Tsunekawa
  • Nigussie Haregeweyn
  • Enyew Adgo
  • Mitsuru Tsubo
  • Derege T. Meshesha
  • Tsugiyuki Masunaga
  • Dagnachew Aklog
  • Ayele A. Fenta
  • Kindiye Ebabu


In developing countries such as Ethiopia, research to develop and promote soil and water conservation practices rarely addressed regional diversity. Using a water-balance approach in this study, we used runoff plots from three sites, each representing a different agro-ecological environment, e.g., high, mid and low in both elevation and rainfall, in the Upper Blue Nile Basin of Ethiopia to examine the runoff response and runoff conservation efficiency of a range of different soil and water conservation measures and their impacts on soil moisture. The plots at each site represented common land use types (cultivated vs. non-agricultural land use types) and slopes (gentle and steep). Seasonal runoff from control plots in the highlands ranged 214–560 versus 253–475 mm at midlands and 119–200 mm at lowlands. The three soil and water conservation techniques applied in cultivated land increased runoff conservation efficiency by 32% to 51%, depending on the site. At the moist subtropical site in a highland region, soil and water conservation increased soil moisture enough to potentially cause waterlogging, which was absent at the lowrainfall sites. Soil bunds combined with Vetiveria zizanioides grass in cultivated land and short trenches in grassland conserved the most runoff (51% and 55%, respectively). Runoff responses showed high spatial variation within and between land use types, causing high variation in soil and water conservation efficiency. Our results highlight the need to understand the role of the agro-ecological environment in the success of soil and water conservation measures to control runoff and hydrological dynamics. This understanding will support policy development to promote the adoption of suitable techniques that can be tested at other locations with similar soil, climatic, and topographic conditions.


agro-ecology drought-prone runoff coefficient runoff conservation efficiency Ethiopia 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



This research was supported by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (25257417) from Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan.


  1. Adgo E, Teshome A, Mati B. 2013. Impacts of long-term soil and water conservation on agricultural productivity: The case of Anjenie watershed, Ethiopia. Agricultural Water Management, 117: 55–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adimassu Z, Haile N. 2011. Runoff, soil loss and their relationships under different land uses in the central highlands of Ethiopia. Ethiopian Journal of Applied Sciences & Technology, 2(1): 39–49.Google Scholar
  3. Adimassu Z, Mekonnen K, Yirga C, et al. 2014. Effect of soil bunds on runoff, soil and nutrient losses, and crop yield in the central highlands of Ethiopia. Land Degradation & Development, 25(6): 554–564.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Allen R G, Pereira L S, Raes D, et al. 1998. Crop Evapotranspiration-Guidelines for Computing Crop Water Requirements-FAO Irrigation and Drainage Paper 56. Rome: FAO, 1–15.Google Scholar
  5. Amare T, Zegeye A D, Yitaferu B, et al. 2014. Combined effect of soil bund with biological soil and water conservation measures in the northwestern Ethiopian highlands. Ecohydrology & Hydrobiology, 14(3): 192–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bayabil H K, Tilahun S A, Collick A S, et al. 2010. Are runoff processes ecologically or topographically driven in the (sub) humid Ethiopian highlands? The case of the Maybar watershed. Ecohydrology, 3(4): 457–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bekele-Tesemma A, Sjohom H, Bekalo I, et al. 2005. Managing Land: A Practical Guidebook for Development Agents in Ethiopia. Nairobi: Regional Land Management Unit, World Agroforestry Centre, Eastern and Central Africa Regional Programme, Addis Ababa: Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, 282.Google Scholar
  8. Bergkamp G. 1998. A hierarchical view of the interactions of runoff and infiltration with vegetation and microtopography in semiarid shrublands. CATENA, 33(3–4): 201–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Castillo V M, Martinez-Mena M, Albaladejo J. 1997. Runoff and soil loss response to vegetation removal in a semiarid environment. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 61(4): 1116–1121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dagnew D C, Guzman C D, Zegeye A D, et al. 2015. Impact of conservation practices on runoff and soil loss in the sub-humid Ethiopian Highlands: The Debre Mawi watershed. Journal of Hydrology and Hydromechanics, 63(3): 210–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Descheemaeker K, Nyssen J, Poesen J, et al. 2006. Runoff on slopes with restoring vegetation: a case study from the Tigray highlands, Ethiopia. Journal of Hydrology, 331(1–2): 219–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Descroix L, Viramontes D, Vauclin M, et al. 2001. Influence of soil surface features and vegetation on runoff and erosion in the Western Sierra Madre (Durango, Northwest Mexico). CATENA, 43(2): 115–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dingman S L. 2015. Physical Hydrology (3rd ed.). USA: Waveland Press, 17–39.Google Scholar
  14. Ebabu K. 2016. Effects of land management practices on soil and nutrient losses: A case study in paired watersheds of Guder, in the Upper Blue Nile Basin, Ethiopia. MSc Thesis. Tottori, Japan: Tottori University, 108.Google Scholar
  15. Fenta A A, Yasuda H, Shimizu K et al., 2017a. Spatial distribution and temporal trends of rainfall and erosivity in the Eastern Africa region. Hydrological Processes, 31(15): 4555–4567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fenta A A, Yasuda H, Shimizu K et al., 2017b. Response of streamflow to climate variability and changes in human activities in the semiarid highlands of northern Ethiopia. Regional Environmental Change, 17(4): 1229–1240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Girmay G, Singh B R, Nyssen J, et al. 2009. Runoff and sediment-associated nutrient losses under different land uses in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia. Journal of Hydrology, 376(1–2): 70–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Haregeweyn N, Tsunekawa A, Nyssen J, et al. 2015. Soil erosion and conservation in Ethiopia: A review. Progress in Physical Geography, 39(6): 750–774.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Haregeweyn N, Tsunekawa A, Tsubo M, et al. 2016. Analyzing the hydrologic effects of region-wide land and water development interventions: a case study of the Upper Blue Nile basin. Regional Environmental Change, 16(4): 951–966.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Haregeweyn N, Tsunekawa A, Poesen J, et al. 2017. Comprehensive assessment of soil erosion risk for better land use planning in river basins: Case study of the Upper Blue Nile River. Science of the Total Environment, 574: 95–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hargreaves G H, Samani Z A. 1985. Reference crop evapotranspiration from temperature. Applied Engineering in Agriculture, 1(2): 96–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Herweg K, Ludi E. 1999. The performance of selected soil and water conservation measures—case studies from Ethiopia and Eritrea. CATENA, 36(1–2): 99–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hurni H, Zeleke G, Kassie M, et al. 2015. Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) Ethiopia case study. Soil degradation and sustainable land management in the Rainfed agricultural areas of Ethiopia: An assessment of the economic implications. In: Report for the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative. Bonn, Deutschland: Water and Land Resource Centre (WLRC); Centre for Development and Environment (CDE); Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), 99.Google Scholar
  24. Hurni H, Berhe W A, Chadhokar P, et al. 2016. Soil and Water Conservation in Ethiopia: Guidelines for Development Agents. Bern, Switzerland: Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), Bern Open Publishing (BOP), 1–50.Google Scholar
  25. Kassie M, Zikhali P, Pender J, et al. 2009. Sustainable agricultural practices and agricultural productivity in Ethiopia: does agroecology matter? In: Working Papers in Economics No. 406. Göteborg: University of Gothenburg.Google Scholar
  26. Lampkin N H, Pearce B D, Leake A R, et al. 2015. The role of agroecology in sustainable intensification. In: Report for the Land Use Policy Group. Organic Research Centre, Elm Farm and Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Scottish.Google Scholar
  27. Lee J J, Phillips D L, Dodson R F. 1996. Sensitivity of the US corn belt to climate change and elevated CO2: II. Soil erosion and organic carbon. Agricultural Systems, 52(4): 503–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Matouš P, Todo Y, Mojo D. 2013. Roles of extension and ethno-religious networks in acceptance of resource-conserving agriculture among Ethiopian farmers. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 11(4): 301–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Melesse A M, Abtew W. 2016. Landscape Dynamics, Soils and Hydrological Processes in Varied Climates. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 1–93.Google Scholar
  30. Morgan R P C, Finney H J, Lavee H, et al. 1986. Plant cover effects on hillslope runoff and erosion: evidence from two laboratory experiments. In: Abrahams A D. Hillslope Processes. Winchester, Mass: Allen and Urwin, 16: 77–90.Google Scholar
  31. Nigussie Z, Tsunekawa A, Haregeweyn N, et al. 2017. Farmers' perception about soil erosion in Ethiopia. Land Degradation & Development, 28(2): 401–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Nyssen J, Haile M, Moeyersons J, et al. 2000. Soil and water conservation in Tigray (Northern Ethiopia): the traditional dagat technique and its integration with introduced techniques. Land Degradation & Development, 11(3): 199–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Nyssen J, Poesen J, Moeyersons J, et al. 2004. Human impact on the environment in the Ethiopian and Eritrean highlands—a state of the art. Earth-Science Reviews, 64(3–4): 273–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pathak P, Mishra P K, Rao K V, et al. 2009. Best-bet options on soil and water conservation. In: Best-bet Options for Integrated Watershed Management Proceedings of the Comprehensive Assessment of Watershed Programs in India, 25–27 July 2007. Andhra Pradesh, India: ICRISAT Patancheru, 75–94.Google Scholar
  35. Pilgrim D H, Chapman T G, Doran D G. 1988. Problems of rainfall-runoff modelling in arid and semiarid regions. Hydrological Sciences Journal, 33(4): 379–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rientjes T, Haile A T, Fenta A A. 2013. Diurnal rainfall variability over the Upper Blue Nile Basin: A remote sensing based approach. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, 21: 311–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sahoo D C, Madhu M G, Bosu S S, et al. 2016. Farming methods impact on soil and water conservation efficiency under tea [Camellia sinensis (L.)] plantation in Nilgiris of South India. International Soil and Water Conservation Research, 4(3): 195–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Schmidt E, Zemadim B. 2013. Hydrological modelling of sustainable land management interventions in the Mizewa watershed of the Blue Nile basin. In: Rainwater Management for Resilient Livelihoods in Ethiopia: Proceedings of the Nile Basin Development Challenge Science Meeting, Addis Ababa, 9–10 July 2013. NBDC Technical Report 5. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI, 30.Google Scholar
  39. Sheldrick B, Wang C. 1993. Particle size distribution. In: Carter M R. Soil Sampling and Methods of Analysis. Boca Raton, Florida, USA: Canadian Society of Soil Science, Lewis Publishers, 499–513.Google Scholar
  40. Sultan D, Tsunekawa A, Haregeweyn N, et al. 2017. Analyzing the runoff response to soil and water conservation measures in a tropical humid Ethiopian highland. Physical Geography, 38(5): 423–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Tadesse M, Belay K. 2004. Factors influencing adoption of soil conservation measures in Southern Ethiopia: the case of Gununo area. Journal of Agriculture and Rural Development in the Tropics and Subtropics, 105(1): 49–62.Google Scholar
  42. Taye G, Poesen J, Van Wesemael B, et al. 2013. Effects of land use, slope gradient, and soil and water conservation structures on runoff and soil loss in semi-arid Northern Ethiopia. Physical Geography, 34(3): 236–259.Google Scholar
  43. Tebebu T Y, Steenhuis T S, Dagnew D C, et al. 2015. Improving efficacy of landscape interventions in the (sub) humid Ethiopian highlands by improved understanding of runoff processes. Frontiers in Earth Science, 3: 49.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dagnenet Sultan
    • 1
    • 2
  • Atsushi Tsunekawa
    • 3
  • Nigussie Haregeweyn
    • 4
  • Enyew Adgo
    • 5
  • Mitsuru Tsubo
    • 6
  • Derege T. Meshesha
    • 3
    • 5
  • Tsugiyuki Masunaga
    • 7
  • Dagnachew Aklog
    • 8
  • Ayele A. Fenta
    • 1
  • Kindiye Ebabu
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.The United Graduate School of Agricultural SciencesTottori UniversityTottoriJapan
  2. 2.School of Civil and Water Resource Engineering, Institute of TechnologyBahir Dar UniversityBahir DarEthiopia
  3. 3.Arid Land Research CenterTottori UniversityTottoriJapan
  4. 4.International Platform for Dryland Research and EducationTottori UniversityTottoriJapan
  5. 5.Department of Natural Resources ManagementBahir Dar UniversityBahir DarEthiopia
  6. 6.Institute for Soil, Climate and WaterAgricultural Research CouncilPretoriaSouth Africa
  7. 7.Faculty of Life and Environmental ScienceShimane UniversityShimane MatsueJapan
  8. 8.Center for International AffairsTottori UniversityTottoriJapan

Personalised recommendations