Soil Erosion Studies in Northern Ethiopia

  • Lulseged Tamene
  • Paul L. G. Vlek

Soil erosion is one of the biggest global environmental problems resulting in both on-site and off-site effects. The economic implication of soil erosion is more serious in developing countries because of lack of capacity to cope with it and also to replace lost nutrients. These countries have also high population growth which leads to intensified use of already stressed resources and expansion of production to marginal and fragile lands. Such processes aggravate erosion and productivity declines, resulting in a population-poverty-land degradation cycle.

Rapid population growth, cultivation on steep slopes, clearing of vegetation, and overgrazing are the main factors that accelerate soil erosion in Ethiopia. The annual rate of soil loss in the country is higher than the annual rate of soil formation rate. Annually, Ethiopia losses over 1.5 billion tons of topsoil from the highlands to erosion which could have added about 1.5 million tons of grain to the country’s harvest. This indicates that soil erosion is a very serous threat to food security of people and requires urgent management intervention.

To circumvent the impacts of erosion, it is important to know the severity of the problem and the main controlling factors. Since different portions of the landscape vary in sensitivity to erosion due to differences in their geomorphological, geological, and vegetation attributes, it is also necessary to identify high erosion risk areas in order to plan site-specific management interventions. Depending on the prevailing erosion processes and controlling factors, the efficiency of soil conservation measures may vary. This calls for the assessment of the soil conservation potential of different management practices. This study was conducted in northern Ethiopia in order to assess rates of soil loss, investigate controlling factors, and analyze spatial patterns and management alternatives. Section 5.1 reviews the impacts of soil erosion at global and regional scale. Section 5.2 discusses the magnitude of soil erosion in northern Ethiopia based on reservoir survey and Section 5.3 explores its major determinant factors. Section 5.4 applies soil erosion models to identify high erosion risk areas for targeted management intervention and Section 5.5 simulates the potentials of different land management/soil conservation techniques in reducing soil loss of selected catchments. Section 5.6 summarizes the major findings of the study.


Soil erosion soil erosion controlling factors hot-spot areas of erosion modeling soil erosion land use/cover-design northern Ethiopia 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aksoy, H., & Kavvas, M. L., (2005). A review of hillslope and watershed scale erosion and sediment transport models. Catena, 64, 247–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Borin, M., Vianello, M., Morari, F., & Zanin, G. (2005). Effectiveness of buffer strips in removing pollutants in runoff from cultivated field in North-East Italy. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 105, 101–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Costin, A. B. (1980). Runoff and soil nutrient losses from an improved pasture at Ginninderra, Southern Tablelands, New South Wales. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research, 31, 533–546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Dearing, J. A., & Foster, D. L. (1993). Lake sediments and geomorphological processes: Some thoughts. In J. McManus & R. W. Duck (Eds.), Geomorphology and sedimentology of lakes and reservoirs (pp. 73–92). Chichester, UK: Wiley.Google Scholar
  5. De Roo, A. P. J. (1998). Modelling runoff and sediment transport in catchments using GIS. Hydrological Processes, 12, 905–922.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. den Biggelaar, C., Lal, R., Wiebe, K., Eswaran, H., Breneman, V., & Reich, P. (2004). The global impact of soil erosion on productivity II: Effect on crop yields and production over time. Advances in Agronomy, 81, 49–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Desmet, P. J. J., & Govers, G. (1996). Comparison of routing algorithms for digital elevation models and their implications for predicting ephemeral gullies. International Journal of Geographical Information Systems, 10, 311–331.Google Scholar
  8. Dickinson, A., & Collins, R. (1998). Predicting erosion and sediment yield at the catchment scale. In F. W. T. Penning de Vries, F. Agus & J. Kerr (Eds.), Soil erosion at multiple scales: Principles and methods for assessing causes and impacts (pp. 317–342). Wallingford, UK: CABI, in association with the International Board for Soil Research and Management.Google Scholar
  9. Dregne, H. E. (1990). Erosion and soil productivity in Africa. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 45(4), 431–436.Google Scholar
  10. El-Swaify, S. A. (1994). State-of-the-art for assessing soil and water conservation needs and technologies. In T. L. Napier, S. M. Camboni & S. A. El-Swaify (Eds.), Adopting conservation on the farm (pp. 13–27). Ankeny, IA: Soil and Water Conservation Society of America.Google Scholar
  11. Erskine, W. D., & Saynor, M. J. (1995). The influence of waterway management on water quality with particular reference to suspended solids, phosphorus and nitrogen. Victoria, East Melbourne: Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.Google Scholar
  12. Eswaran, H., Lal, R., & Reich, P. F. (2001). Land degradation: An overview. In E. M. Bridges, I. D. Hannam, L. R. Oldeman, F. W. T. Pening de Vries, S. J. Scherr & S. Sompatpanit (Eds.), Responses to land degradation. Proceedings of 2nd International Conference on Land Degradation and Desertification. Khon Kaen, Thailand. New Delhi, India: Oxford Press.Google Scholar
  13. Eweg, H., & Van Lammeren, R. (1996). The application of a GIS at the rehabilitation of degraded and degrading areas. A case study in the highlands of Tigray, Ethiopia. Wageningen, The Netherlands: Centre for Geographical Information Processing, Agricultural University.Google Scholar
  14. FAO. (1986). Ethiopian highland reclamation study. Ethiopia. Final report. Rome: FAO.Google Scholar
  15. Fargas, D., Martínez-Casasnovas, J. A., & Poch, R. M. (1997). Identification of critical sediment source areas at regional level. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, 22, 355–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Foster, I. D. L. (1995). Lake and reservoir bottom sediments as sources of soil erosion and sediment transport data in the UK. In I. D. L. Foster, M. M. Gurnell & B. Webb (Eds.), Sediment and water quality in river catchments (pp. 265–283). Chichester, UK: Wiley.Google Scholar
  17. Grayson, R., & Blöschl, G. (2000). Spatial modelling of catchment dynamics. In R. Grayson & G. Blöschl (Eds.), Spatial patterns in catchment hydrology: Observations and modelling. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Harden, C. P. (1993). Land use, soil erosion, and reservoir sedimentation in an Andean drainage basin in Ecuador. Mountain Research and Development, 13, 177–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hessel, R., Messing, I., Liding, C., Ritsema, C., & Stolte, J. (2003). Soil erosion simulations of land use scenarios for a small Loess Plateau catchment. Catena, 54, 289–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hurni, H. (1983a). Soil formation rates in Ethiopia. Working paper 2. Addis Ababa: Ethiopian Highlands Reclamation Studies.Google Scholar
  21. Hurni, H. (1983b). Soil erosion and soil formation in agricultural ecosystems in Ethiopia and Northern Thailand. Mountain Research and Development, 3, 131–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hurni, H. (1985). Erosion-productivity-conservation systems in Ethiopia. Soil Conservation Research Project (SCRP). In I. P. Sentis (Ed.), Soil conservation and productivity (pp. 654–674). Proceedings of 4th International Conference on Soil Conservation, Venezuela.Google Scholar
  23. Hurni, H. (1990). Degradation and conservation of soil resources in the Ethiopian highlands. Mountain and Research Development, 8, 123–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hurni, H. (1993). Land degradation, famine, and land resource scenarios in Ethiopia. In D. Pimentel (Ed.), World soil erosion and conservation. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Hurni, H., & Perich, I. (1992). Towards a Tigray regional environmental and economic strategy (TREES): A contribution to the symposium on combating environmental degradation in Tigray, Ethiopia. Berne: Group for Development and Environment, Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Switzerland.Google Scholar
  26. Jetten, V., Govers, G., & Hessel, R. (2003). Erosion models: Quality of spatial predictions. Hydrological Processes, 17, 887–900.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jiang, D., Qi, L., & Tan, J. (1980). Soil erosion and conservation in the Wuding River Valley, China. In R. P. C. Morgan (Ed.), Soil conservation: Problems and prospects (pp. 461–479). Chichester, UK: Wiley.Google Scholar
  28. Julien, P. Y., & Simons, D. B. (1985). Sediment transport capacity of overland flow. Transactions of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers, 28, 755–762.Google Scholar
  29. Kirkby, M. J., Le Bissonais, Y., Coulthard, T. J., Daroussin, J., & McMahon, M. D. (2000). The development of land quality indicators for soil degradation by water erosion. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 81, 125–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Laflen, J. M., & Roose, E. (1998). Methodologies for assessment of soil degradation due to water erosion. In R. Lal, W. H. Blum, C. Valentine & B. A. Stewart (Eds.), Advances in soil science (pp. 31–55). New York: CRC Press.Google Scholar
  31. Laflen, J. M., Foster, G. R., & Onstad, C. A. (1985). Simulation of individual-storm soil loss for modeling the impact of soil erosion on crop productivity. In S. A. El-Swaify, W. C. Moldernhauer & A. Lo (Eds.), Soil erosion and conservation (pp. 285–295). Ankeny, IA: Soil and Water Conservation Society of America.Google Scholar
  32. Lal, R. (1994). Soil erosion by wind and water: Problems and prospects. In R. Lal (Ed.), Soil erosion research methods (pp. 1–9). Ankeny, IA: Soil and Water Conservation Society of America.Google Scholar
  33. Lal, R. (1995). Erosion-crop productivity relationship for soils in Africa. American Journal of Social Science Society, 59, 661–667.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lane, L. J., Renard, K. G., Foster, G. R., & Laflen, J. M. (1997). Development and application of modern soil erosion prediction technology: The USDA experience. Eurasian Soil Science, 30(5), 531–540.Google Scholar
  35. Lawrence, P., & Dickinson, A. (1995). Soil erosion and sediment yield: A review of sediment data from rivers and reservoirs (Report prepared under FAO writers’ contract). Wallingford, UK: Overseas Development Unit, HR Wallingford Ltd.Google Scholar
  36. Lu, X. X., & Higgitt, D. L. (1999). Sediment yield variability in the Upper Yangtze, China. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 24, 1077–1093.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Machado, M. J., Perez-Gonzalez, A., & Benito, G. (1996). Assessment of soil erosion using a predictive model. In E. Feoli (Ed.), Rehabilitation of degrading and degraded areas of Tigray, Northern Ethiopia (pp. 237–248). Trieste, Italy: Department of Biology, University of Trieste.Google Scholar
  38. Maidment, D. R. (1996). Environmental modeling with GIS. In M. F. Goodchild, L. T. Steyaert, B. O. Parks, C. Johnston, D. Maidment & S. Glendinning (Eds.), GIS and environmental modeling: CO, Progress and Research Issues (pp. 315–323). Fort Collins, CO: GIS World.Google Scholar
  39. Merritt, W. S., Letcher, R. A., & Jakemna, A. J. (2003). A review of erosion and sediment transport models. Environmental Modelling and Software, 18, 761–799.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Mitas, L., & Mitasova, H. (1998). Distributed soil erosion simulation for effective erosion prevention. Water Resources Research, 34, 505–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mitasova, H., Hofierka, J., Zloch, M., & Iverson, L. R. (1996). Modelling topographic potential for erosion and deposition using GIS. International Journal of Geographical Information Systems, 10, 629–641.Google Scholar
  42. Mitasova, H., Mitas, L., & Brown, W. M. (2001). Multiscale simulation of land use impact on soil erosion and deposition patterns. In D. E. Stott, R. H. Montar & G. C. Steinhardt (Eds.), Sustaining the global farm. The 10th International Soil Conservation Organization (24–29, 1999). West Lafayette, IA: Purdue University and the USDA-ARS National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory.Google Scholar
  43. Moore, I. D., Grayson, R. B., & Ladson, A. R. (1991). Digital terrain modelling: A review of hydrological, geomorphological and biological applications. Hydrological Processes, 5, 3–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Moore, I.D., Wilson, J.P., & Ciesiolka, C.A. (1992). Soil erosion prediction and GIS: Linking theory and practice. In S. H. Luk & J. Whitney (Eds.), Proceedings of the International Conference on the application of geographical information systems to soil erosion management (pp. 31–48). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  45. Morgan, R. P. C. (1995). Soil erosion and conservation, 2nd ed. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  46. Nearing, M. A., Jetten, V., Baffaut, C., Cerdan, O., Couturier, A., Hernandez, M., Le Bissonnais, Y., Nichols, M. H., Nunes, J. P., Renschler, C. S., Souchere, V., & van Oost, K. (2005). Modeling response of soil erosion and runoff to changes in precipitation and cover. Catena 61, 131–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Nyssen, J. (2001). Erosion processes and soil conservation in a tropical mountain catchment under threat of anthropogenic desertification – a case study from Northern Ethiopia. PhD Thesis. Faculteit Wetenschappen. Department Goegrafie – Geologie, Katholieke University Leuven, Belgium.Google Scholar
  48. Oldeman, L.R. (1994). The global extent of soil degradation. In D. J. Greenland & I. Szabolcs (Eds.), Soil resilience and sustainable land use. Wallingford, UK: CABI.Google Scholar
  49. Phippen, S., & Wohl, E. (2003). An assessment of land use and other factors affecting sediment loads in the Rio Puerco watershed, New Mexico. Geomorphology, 52, 269–287.Google Scholar
  50. Pimentel, D., Harvey, C., Resosudarmo, P., Sinclair, K., Kurz, D., McNair, M., Crist, S., Shpritz, L., Fitton, L., Saffouri, R., & Blair, R. (1995). Environmental and economic costs of soil erosion and conservation benefits. Science, 267, 1117–1123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Poesen, J., Nachtergaele, J., Verstraeten, G., & Valentin, C. (2003). Gully erosion and environmental change: Importance and research needs. Catena, 50, 91–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Reij, C., Scoones, I., & Toulmin, C. (1996). Sustaining the soil: Indigenous soil and water conservation in Africa. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  53. Renard, K. G., & Foster, G. R. (1983). Soil conservation: Principles of erosion by water. In H. E. Degne & W. O. Willis (Eds.), Dryland agriculture. Agronomy Monograph, 23, 156–176. Soil Science Society of America, Madison, WI.Google Scholar
  54. Rustomji, P., & Prosser, I. (2001). Spatial patterns of sediment delivery to valley floors: Sensitivity to sediment transport capacity and hillslope hydrology relations. Hydrological Processes, 15, 1003–1018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Sertsu, S. (2000). Degraded soils of Ethiopia and their management. Proceedings of the FAO/ISCW expert consultation on management of degraded soils in Southern and East Africa. 2nd Network Meeting, 18–22 September 2000. Pretoria.Google Scholar
  56. Shibru, D., Rieger, W., & Strauss, P. (2003). Assessment of gully erosion using phtotogrammetric techniques in Eastern Ethiopia. Catena, 50, 273–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Stott, A. P., Butcher, D. P., & Pemberton, T. J. L. (1988). Problems in the use of reservoir sedimentation data to estimate erosion rates. Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie, 30, 205–226.Google Scholar
  58. Taddese, G. (2001). Land degradation: A challenge to Ethiopia. Environmental Management, 27, 815–824.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Tamene, L., Park, S., Dikau, R., & Vlek, P. L. G. (2006). Analysis of factors determining sediment yield variability in the highlands of Northern Ethiopia. Geomorphology, 76, 76–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Tilahun, Y., Esser, K., Vägen, T. G., & Haile, M. (2002). Soil conservation in Tigray, Ethiopia. Norway: Äs, Agricultural University of Norway, Noragric, Report No.5.Google Scholar
  61. Trimble, S. W. (1974). Man-induced soil erosion in the southern Piedmont, 1700–1970. Ankeny, IA: Soil Conservation Society of America.Google Scholar
  62. Verstraeten, G., & Poesen, J. (2001). Factors controlling sediment yield from small intensity cultivated catchments in a temperate humid climate. Geomorphology, 40, 123–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Verstraeten, G., Van Oost, K., Van Rompaey, A., Poesen, J., & Govers, G. (2002). Evaluating an integrated approach to catchment management to reduce soil loss and sediment pollution through modelling. Soil Use and Management, 19, 386–394.Google Scholar
  64. Vought, L. B., Pinay, G., Fuglsang, A., & Ruffinoni, C. (1995). Structure and function of buffer strips from a water quality perspective in agricultural landscapes. Landscape and Urban Planning, 31, 323–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Walling, D. E., & Webb, D. W. (1981). The reliability of suspended sediment load data: Erosion and sediment transport measurement. Proceedings of the Florence Symposium, Florence. International Association of Hydrological Sciences, 177–194.Google Scholar
  66. Wilson, J., & Gallant, C. (2000). Digital terrain analysis. In J. Wilson & J. Gallant (Eds.), Terrain analysis: Principles and applications. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  67. Wilson, J., & Lorang, M. S. (1999). Spatial models of soil erosion and GIS. In A. S. Fotheringham & M. Wegener (Eds.), Spatial models and GIS: New potential and new models. London: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lulseged Tamene
    • 1
  • Paul L. G. Vlek
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Development ResearchUniversity of BonnGermany

Personalised recommendations