As a form of environmental degradation, soil degradation directly or indirectly affects many lives through decreased agricultural yields, increased flooding and habitat loss. Soil loss has been increasing in most parts of the world and is most pronounced in tropical developing countries where there is poor or zero soil and water conservation (SWC) planning and management activities. Identifying areas prone to soil erosion has also been inadequate, having not been informed by dedicated scientific studies. This is true of the poorly understood watershed of Welmel in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, where most livelihoods heavily rely upon agriculture. To plan effective SWC management techniques, a solid knowledge of spatial variations across different climate, land use and soil erosion is essential. This study has aimed at identifying potential areas needing SWC practices through conducting a spatial modeling of soil erosion within the Welmel watershed’s Genale Dawa basin using a geographic information system (GIS), remote sensing (RS), multiple factors as land uses and climate. The Welmel catchment is located in southeastern Ethiopia and extends between 5°0′0″ N–7°45′00″ N and 39°0′0″ E–41°15′0″ E. The revised universal soil loss equation (RUSLE), which was previously adapted to Ethiopian conditions, was used to estimate potential soil loss. It used information on interpolated rainfall erosivity (R), soil erodibility (K), vegetation cover (C) and topography (LS) from a digital elevation model (DEM) and that of conservation practices (P) from satellite images. The study demonstrates that the RUSLE using GIS and RS considering different climates and land management practices provides a great advantage in that it allows one to spatially analyze multilayer data in order to identify soil erosion-prone areas and thereby develop the most appropriate watershed management strategy. The mean soil loss was determined to be 31 tons ha−1
and it varied between 0 and 169 tons ha−1
. About 79% of the watershed lies within the tolerable level of 11 tons ha−1
. However, the remaining 21% has a high soil truncation trait, mainly due to its steeper slope and use as cultivated land. Our study identifies cultivated and deforested areas of the watershed as the potential SWC practice demanding areas. Thus, the application of RUSEL using GIS across different land management practices and climate zones is a potential tool for identifying SWC demanding sites. This remains helpful in efforts towards sustainable land management practices for the sustainable livelihood of the local human population.
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