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Extent of Cropland and Related Soil Erosion Risk in Rwanda

State Key Laboratory of Desert and Oasis Ecology, Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Urumqi 830011, China
University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
Faculty of Environmental Sciences, University of Lay Adventists of Kigali (UNILAK), P.O. 6392, Kigali, Rwanda
School of Resources Environment Science and Engineering, Hubei University of Science and Technology, Xianning 430000, China
State Key Laboratory of Water Environment Simulation, School of Environment, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Vincenzo Torretta
Sustainability 2016, 8(7), 609;
Received: 28 April 2016 / Revised: 10 June 2016 / Accepted: 21 June 2016 / Published: 28 June 2016
PDF [4752 KB, uploaded 28 June 2016]


Land conversion to cropland is one of the major causes of severe soil erosion in Africa. This study assesses the current cropland extent and the related soil erosion risk in Rwanda, a country that experienced the most rapid population growth and cropland expansion in Africa over the last decade. The land cover land use (LCLU) map of Rwanda in 2015 was developed using Landsat-8 imagery. Based on the obtained LCLU map and the spatial datasets of precipitation, soil properties and elevation, the soil erosion rate of Rwanda was assessed at 30-m spatial resolution, using the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) model. According to the results, the mean soil erosion rate was 250 t·ha−1·a−1 over the entire country, with a total soil loss rate of approximately 595 million tons per year. The mean soil erosion rate over cropland, which occupied 56% of the national land area, was estimated at 421 t·ha−1·a−1 and was responsible for about 95% of the national soil loss. About 24% of the croplands in Rwanda had a soil erosion rate larger than 300 t·ha−1·a−1, indicating their unsuitability for cultivation. With a mean soil erosion rate of 1642 t·ha−1·a−1, these unsuitable croplands were responsible for 90% of the national soil loss. Most of the unsuitable croplands are distributed in the Congo Nile Ridge, Volcanic Range mountain areas in the west and the Buberuka highlands in the north, regions characterized by steep slopes (>30%) and strong rainfall. Soil conservation practices, such as the terracing cultivation method, are paramount to preserve the soil. According to our assessment, terracing alone could reduce the mean cropland soil erosion rate and the national soil loss by 79% and 75%, respectively. After terracing, only a small proportion of 7.6% of the current croplands would still be exposed to extreme soil erosion with a rate >300 t·ha−1·a−1. These irremediable cropland areas should be returned to mountain forest to foster environmental sustainability or further sustainable alternative erosion control techniques may be applied, such as applying Vetiver Eco-engineering Technology due to its economical soil erosion control and stabilization of steep slopes and the construction of erosion control dams to absorb and break down excess runoff from unusually intense storms in various parts of the watersheds. View Full-Text
Keywords: soil erosion; cropland; terracing; RUSLE; remote sensing; GIS; land cover and land use; Rwanda soil erosion; cropland; terracing; RUSLE; remote sensing; GIS; land cover and land use; Rwanda

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Karamage, F.; Zhang, C.; Ndayisaba, F.; Shao, H.; Kayiranga, A.; Fang, X.; Nahayo, L.; Muhire Nyesheja, E.; Tian, G. Extent of Cropland and Related Soil Erosion Risk in Rwanda. Sustainability 2016, 8, 609.

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