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Environmental Change in Lesotho: An analysis of causes and consequences of land use change in the Lowland region

Tuesday, 22 April, 2008 - 16:00
Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering campus
Faculty: Science and Bio-engineering Sciences
Pendo Maro
phd defence

The study set out to identify and analyse the causes and consequences of land use change in the Lowland region of Lesotho, between 1960s – 2000s. Two study villages, Ha Paki in Mazenod and Ha Maphohloane in Mohale’s Hoek were selected. To achieve the research objectives, an interdisciplinary approach was adopted. Perception data gathered through interviews and discussion with key informants was used in the analysis of an ‘insider’s perspective’ on land use change in the Lowland villages. Three types of key informants were identified and interviewed: government, non-government and village informants. Remote sensing analysis under ERDAS was based on interpretations of data composed of multi-dated aerial photographs (1961 and 1985 for Ha Paki and 1980 and 1985 for Ha Maphohloane) and satellite images (2002 and 2006 for Ha Paki and 2002 and 2004 for Ha Maphohloane). A Multi-criteria analysis (MCA) method was developed and used to analyse perception data.

Based on the perception analyses, the main land use changes were an increase in settlements and population, a decrease in crop lands and crop production, and a decrease in livestock numbers, over a 15-20 year period. Remote sensing change detection analyses used both visual change detection techniques developed for the purpose of this thesis and post-classification analysis. The results established a general increase in settlements, an increase in trees/woodlots, changes in crop production, and new roads, during the study period. The main drivers of land use change as identified by perception analysis were drought and lack of water, land mismanagement, HIV/AIDS and ‘dependency syndrome’. These were acting together or in parallel with other factors such as changes in infrastructure and accessibility, increasing economic unattractiveness of agriculture and impacts of HIV/AIDS-related morbidity and mortality on labour availability and household socio-economic conditions, to cause land use changes. Perceptions of land users and managers on the biophysical environment and climatic constraints were additional central underlying factors driving land use change. Institutional factors were found to have a central role in influencing land use decisions.

The study established the importance of local perceptions, as confirmed by remote sensing and secondary data, in understanding land use change decisions and choices. Local land users and managers perceived the effects of land use change as negative. Land degradation was perceived as one of the main effects of land use change. Drought, poverty and ignorance were perceived as the main drivers of land degradation. Other effects of land use change included: increasing soil erosion, inability to produce food, selling land for settlements and shift to off-farm employment. The study found no causal association between migration-induced labour shortages and a decrease in croplands or increase in settlements.

Generally, decisions to changing land uses were part of adaptations to changes in climatic and the biophysical environment, within a household’s changing socio-economic context. These may be broadly influenced by the presence of other factors such as policy, institutions and (lack of) access to resources.

Based on the research findings, suggestions of possible policy solutions to encourage and improve sustainable land use and management in the Lowland and Lesotho in general are offered.