Land degradation in Lesotho : a synoptic perspective

Majara, Ntina (2005-04)

Thesis (MSc (Geography and Environmental Studies))--University of Stellenbosch, 2005.


Land degradation in Lesotho is undermining the finite resource on which people depend for survival. Use of satellite imagery has been recommended for monitoring land degradation because remotely sensed data enable monitoring of large areas at more frequent intervals than intensive ground based research. Various techniques have been developed for land cover change detection. In the present study, vegetation changes were identified by image differencing, which involved finding the difference between the earlier date NDVI image and the later date image. NDVI images are among products that are generated from the NOAA AVHRR sensor to provide information about the quantity of biomass on the earth’s surface. The resulting NDVI change data showed land areas that had experienced vegetation loss, which were identified as potentially degraded. The change data were combined with other data sets to determine how potentially degraded areas were influenced by different environmental variables and population pressure. These data sets included land cover, ecological zones, elevation, soil and human and livestock populations. By integrating NDVI data with ancillary data, land degradation was attributed to both demographic pressure and biophysical factors. Widespread degradation was detected on the arable parts of the Lowlands where cultivation was intensive and human settlements were extensive. Signs of grassland depletion and forest decline were also evident and were attributed to population expansion, overgrazing and indiscriminate cutting of trees and shrubs for firewood. Extensive biomass decline was also associated more with soils in the lowlands derived from sedimentary rocks than soils of basalt origin that occur mostly in the highlands. Significant degradation was evident on gentle slopes where land uses such as cultivation and expansion of settlements were identified as the main causes of the degradation. There was evidence of greater vegetation depletion on north and east-facing slopes than on other slopes. The depletion was attributed to the fragility of ecosystems resulting from intense solar radiation. The study demonstrated that NOAA AVHRR NDVI images could be used effectively for detecting land cover changes in Lesotho. However, future research could focus on obtaining and using high resolution data for detailed analysis of factors driving land degradation.

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