Assessing farmland dynamics and land degradation on Sahelian landscapes using remotely sensed and socioeconomic data
Through the integration of SPOT HRV, biophysical and socioeconomic information, the study identified population carrying capacities and their vulnerability to land degradation. Land use intensification on the landscapes was quantified into expansion, early and late phases based on the Ruthenberg index calculated using a biennial series of SPOT images for the period 1986-96. Subsequently, farmland dynamic on different landscapes was calculated while observed patterns were linked with agricultural intensification and population carrying capacity. Results show a pattern of agricultural land degradation due to increasing pressure of population and agricultural intensification within a system characterised by little or no use of inputs. Fifty-six percent of the study area supports a population density higher than the carrying capacity (≤ 15 pers/km-2). Sixty-three percent of the study area is under early to late phases of agricultural intensification. Between 1986-96, cultivation declined 2-3% annually on landscapes with Low risk of degradation but increased by 1-2% on those with Average/Extreme risks. This emphasises the process of land abandonment as farmers move on to cultivating marginal lands despite above normal seasonal rainfalls observed during most of the period. By 1996, cultivation tended to include fields much farther away from the vicinity of villages, compared with 10 years earlier. Furthermore, by 1996, farmlands in the zones of late intensification declined from 12 to 4% and increased from 6 to 11% in the zone under the expansion phase. Indicating that by 1996 substantial amount of the land area required increasing lengths of fallowing. The spatial GIS modelling approach allowed not only identification of zones but synthesis of the observed pattern of landscape degradation. The paper highlights the need for combining remote sensing, biophysical and socio-economic data in environmental degradation studies in developing countries with their poor data availability. The role of developing countries scientists is stressed in taking the forefront to tackle environmental problems, which affect their region. The paper calls for increased co-operation between these scientists and regional and international data providers to overcome data availability problems and pave the way for better local and regional studies on environmental degradation.