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Land use/cover dynamics in northern Afar rangelands, Ethiopia

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This study uses a combination of remote sensing data, field observations and information from local people to analyze the patterns and dynamics of land-use/cover changes for 35 years from 1972 to 2007 in the arid and semi-arid Northern Afar rangelands, Ethiopia. A pixel-based supervised image classification was used to map land-use/cover classes. People's perceptions and ecological time-lines were used to explain the driving forces linked to the changes. A rapid reduction in woodland cover (97%) and grassland cover (88%) took place between 1972 and 2007. Bushland cover increased more than threefold, while the size of cultivated land increased more than eightfold. Bare land increased moderately, whereas bushy grassland and scrubland remained stable. According to accounts from local people, major events that largely explain the changes include: (1) severe droughts in 1973/74 and 1984/85; (2) increase in dry years during the last decade; and (3) immigration and increased sedentarization of pastoralists. If the present land-use/cover change were to continue, coupled with a drier climate, people's livelihoods will be highly affected and the pastoral production system will be under increasing threat.

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