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Land Use Change Impacts On Water Erosion In Rwanda

Jean de Dieu Nambajimana, Xiubin He, Ji Zhou, Meta Francis Justine, Jinlin Li, Dil Khurram, Richard Mind’je, Gratien Nsabimana

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Rwanda has experienced accelerated soil erosion as a result of unsustainable human activities and changes in land use. Therefore, this study aimed at applying the RUSLE (Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation) model using GIS (Geographical Information System) and remote sensing to assess water erosion in Rwanda, focusing on the erosion-prone lands for the time span 2000 to 2015. The estimated mean annual soil losses were 48.6 t ha−1 y−1 and 39.2 t ha−1 y−1 in 2000 and 2015, respectively, resulting in total nationwide losses of approximately 110 and 89 million tons. Over the 15 years, 34.6% of the total area of evaluated LULC (land use/land cover) types have undergone changes. The highest mean soil loss of 91.6 t ha−1 y−1 occurred in the area changing from grassland to forestland (0.5%) while a mean soil loss of 10.0 t ha−1 y−1 was observed for grassland converting to cropland (4.4%). An attempt has been made to identify the embedded driving forces of soil erosion in Rwanda. As a result, we found that mean soil loss for Rwanda’s districts in 2015 was significantly correlated with poverty (r = 0.45, p = 0.013), increased use of chemical fertilizers (r = 0.77, p = 0.005), and especially was related to extreme poverty (r = 0.77, p = 0.000). The soil conservation scenario analysis for Rwanda’s cropland in 2015 revealed that terracing could reduce the soil loss by 24.8% (from 14.6 t ha−1 y−1 to 11.7 t ha−1 y−1). Most importantly, the study suggests that (1) terracing integrated with mulching and cover crops could effectively control water erosion while ameliorating soil quality and fertility, and (2) reforestation schemes targeting the rapid-growing tree species are therefore recommended as an important feature for erosion control in the study area.