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Why do a national assessment?

To get a better understanding of land degradation and conservation in South Africa at magisterial district, regional, provincial and national level, to inform decision making towards the implementation of sustainable land management practices country-wide. The Land Degradation Assessment in Drylands (LADA) Project is mainly funded by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations with logistical support by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The project is implemented by the Agricultural Research Council - Institute of Soil, Climate and Water.

How was the assessment done?

Participatory Expert Assessment Workshops at district municipality level formed the basis for data capturing. Inputs from experts in natural resource management, land users and government officials formed the basis for data on land degradation and conservation in the different land use classes of the different local municipalities of South Africa. In developing the final products for informed decision making, the project also made use of additional available information on land degradation and conservation to help towards the better understanding of the status, causes, impacts and responses towards land degradation in South Africa. The Drivers, Pressures, State, Impact and Response (DPSIR) Framework and a newly developed Land Degradation and Conservation Index will be used for data analysis and will form the basis for decision making products to be developed from the study.

What variables were used to do the assessment?

There were five steps in the assessment procedures: Information on contributing specialists, data on land use, information on land degradation and conservation and lastly, expert recommendations by contributing specialists. A complete assessment matrix was completed for each mapping unit of the country. A mapping unit is a specific land use class within a local municipality boundary, for example, Grassland in the Mafikeng Local Municipality.

The information on contributing specialists will serve as database on experts in the field of natural resource management in the different provinces. This information will be very useful to identify experts to help with the design, implementation and monitoring of future sustainable land management projects in the different districts and provinces.

Area and intensity trends are the variables used to describe the changes in land use during the last ten years for the different land use classes. Changes in area and intensity trends can be seen as direct drivers towards land degradation. The reasons for changes in intensity trends will give an indication on the success or failure of government programmes as well as the impact of the economy on different land uses.

The assessment of land degradation looks at the three main types of land degradation for each mapping unit assessed. For each of these types of land degradation for a specific mapping unit (water erosion on cultivated land for example), the following additional information is assessed to complete the degradation assessment for that mapping unit:

• Extent of land degradation
• Degree of degradation
• Rate of degradation
• Direct causes for degradation
• Indirect causes for degradation
• Type and level of impact of degradation on ecosystem services

On the other hand, for the conservation assessment, the assessment focuses on the three main conservation groups used in response to land degradation problems for a specific mapping unit, for example grazing land management in the savanna areas of Molopo. For each of these conservation groups per mapping unit, the following additional variables are addressed in the conservation assessment:

• Measures used to describe the different conservation groups
• The purpose of conservation measures, e.g. prevention, mitigation or rehabilitation
• The extent of implementation of conservation measures in the mapping unit
• An estimation of the effective implementation and maintenance of conservation works
• The effectiveness trend of conservation measures during the last 10 years
• An indication of the degradation types addressed by the conservation groups and measures
• And lastly, the type and level of impact of conservation measures on ecosystem services.

The last step in the LADA/WOCAT national assessment procedure is an opportunity for contributing specialists to make an expert recommendation on what they think will assist towards the sustainable use of natural resources and the wider adoption of sustainable land management practices.

What products can be expected from the study?

In addition to technical reports and scientific articles, the results will be published on the web (LADA and AGIS website). An information CD is also envisaged to view and query the assessment data. This will allow potential users of the assessment data to view, query and map assessment data for a specific area, land use, degradation problem or conservation group. Assessment results will also be shared through interactive feedback workshops in the respective provinces. All of these have the following two objectives in mind. Firstly, to make people aware of the existence of assessment data for all the provinces of the country, and secondly, the potential of the assessment data to inform decision making at different levels.

The assessment data will be presented using the DPSIR Framework and by doing this, will help towards the better understanding of land degradation and conservation at different levels, the trends involved and also how this data should be used to determine where to allocate scarce resources towards sustainable land management. An important output will be maps indicating future responses towards land degradation as areas where preventative actions are needed, where to mitigate and/or where rehabilitation actions are needed to deal with specific land degradation problems. The prioritization of these areas will help decision makers to focus their limited resources on those areas where it will have the biggest potential impact on sustainable land management and eventually food security.

Land Cover Change

The land cover change analysis used a practical and cost-effective approach for monitoring land-cover change at a national scale over time using Earth Observation data. An analytical report was compiled on the main land-cover changes that have taken place in the country over the period 1995 to 2005.

In summary, the results indicate that at a national level there has been a total increase of 1.2% in transformed land, specifically associated with Urban, Cultivation, Plantation Forestry and Mining. This represents an increase from 14.5% transformed land in 1994 to 15.7% in 2005 across South Africa. On a national basis the areas of Urban, Forestry and Mining have all increased over the 10-year period whereas cultivated areas have decreased. Urban has increased from 0.8% to 2%, Forestry from 1.2% to 1.6%, and Mining from 0.1% to 0.2%, while Cultivated has decreased from 12.4% to 11.9%. The spatial patterns do, however, vary geographically across provinces in South Africa.

The dataset resulting from the project can be considered a useful resource for further research and analysis. It is recommended that further research should include investigation into the transformed cover classes with the objective of identifying the drivers and type of change that has occurred, as well as the social, environmental and economical impacts of these changes over time.

All available reports can be accessed from the Reports link below.

For spatial data on the land cover change study, please contact Mr. Stuart Martin (GeoterraImage Pty. Ltd.) or Ms. Elna van den Berg (ARC).