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land degradation & development

Land Degrad. Develop. 13: 495–513 (2002) Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/ldr.538

LAND-USE CHANGE IN TWO NEPALESE WATERSHEDS:

GIS AND GEOMORPHOMETRIC ANALYSIS

K. D. AWASTHI, 1 B. K. SITAULA, 1 * B. R. SINGH 1 AND R. M. BAJACHARAYA 2

1 Department of Soil and Water Sciences, Agriculture University of Norway, A ˚ s, Norway

2 Kathmandu University, Dhulikhel, Nepal

Received 18 January 2002; Revised 2 October 2002; Accepted 6 October 2002

ABSTRACT

Accurate measurement of land-use/land-cover and geomorphometric parameters is important for evaluating watershed conditions, yet these are surprisingly difficult quantities to measure accurately over large areas. Watershed analysis based on the geographic information system (GIS) was carried out in two watersheds in the western development region of Nepal. Land- use maps were prepared after interpretation of 1978 and 1996 aerial photographs. Digital data for deriving geomorphometric parameters were prepared from topographical maps of scale 1: 25 000. The dynamics of land-use and land-cover change within the Mardi and Fewa watersheds were investigated by performing spatial analysis of digital land-use maps in ArcView 3.1 desktop environment. There was a net increase in forest cover of 2 4 per cent and 1 1 per cent in the Mardi and Fewa watersheds respectively, with a corresponding decrease in shrub and rainfed agriculture. Land use was found to be highly dynamic with significant internal trading among the land-use classes. A significant area under agriculture in 1978 was found abandoned in 1996 in both watersheds most likely due to increased out migration of the labour force. Geomorphometric parameters such as hypsometric curves, hypsometric integrals (HI), drainage density and length of overland flow were analysed to explain the watershed conditions. The results of geomorphometric analysis revealed that the watersheds have been subjected in the past to high erosion and are still susceptible to lateral surface erosion hence soil degradation. Some suggestion for management can be derived from this study. Copyright # 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

key words:

GIS; hypsometry; land-use change; Nepal; watershed degradation

INTRODUCTION

Estimating temporal land-use and land-cover changes is essential to assessing the rate at which these changes advance and the problems or impacts they cause and, hence, prediction of future impacts and trends (Lambin, 1997). Land-use and land-cover modification have important environmental consequences through their impacts on soil and water quality, biodiversity, microclimate, methane emission and reduced CO 2 absorption and, hence, contribute to watershed degradation (Lambin et al., 2000; Schneider and Pontius, 2001). Increased consciousness of these impacts enhanced their estimating, forecasting and modelling at the global, regional or watershed scales (Chen et al., 2001). Numerous developing countries including Nepal face serious environmental degradation induced by large-scale deforestation. The severe degradation of the middle mountains of the Nepal (Ives and Messerli, 1989) has recently been quantified and mapped through the considerable efforts of the Nepalese Government and international agencies. A total of 103 968 ha of forest in Siwaliks hills and plains were cleared under the government’s resettlement programme from the 1950s to the mid-1980s (MPFS, 1988). Comparison of the 1978–1979 maps with those of 1994–1996, showed that the annual deforestation rate is 0 5 per cent nationwide, where as it is 1 7 per cent for southern Terai (plain areas) and 2 3 per cent for middle mountain regions, respectively (FRI, 1999). However,

Correspondence to: Dr B. K. Sitaula, Agriculture University of Norway, Department of Soil and Water Sciences, PO Box 5028, N-1432, A ˚ s,

Norway. E-mail: bishal.sitaula@ijvf.nlh.no

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K. D. AWASTHI ET AL.

introduction of community forestry and leasehold forestry programmes during the 1980s and 1990s has resulted in increase in forest cover in the middle mountain area (Gilmore and Nurse, 1991). The destabilization of fragile mountain slopes through deforestation, agricultural expansion, excessive grazing and expansion of the road network has increased land degradation and soil erosion rates (Ives and Messerli, 1989; Thapa, 1990). Soil erosion rates have been estimated as high as 15 3 Mg ha 1 for degraded forest and as high as 213 Mg ha 1 for uncontrolled grazing lands (Pahari, 1993). Agriculture was extended at the cost of forest/shrub, marginal, and submarginal areas with very steep slopes without due consideration for the suitability of these lands for cultivation (Tiwari, 2000). Interpretation of aerial photographs taken at different intervals provides valuable information of physical features such as land use, soils, vegetation, stream networks, and landforms at different time scales (Borrough and McDonnell, 1998). It also helps in preparing topographic maps and creating a digital elevation model (DEM), hence integrating slope, aspect and topography of a complex mountain environment (Trapp and Mool, 1996). The capability of GIS to integrate and analyse temporal and spatial data helps in quantifying the land-use changes. In areas of rugged topography and poor accessibility, remote sensing is a valuable tool for monitoring the spatial and temporal changes in land use, as well as its impacts. Due to the spatial nature and distribution of watershed parameters, remote sensing combined with GIS has proved effective for analysing, storing, retrieving and displaying such biophysical and socio-cultural data (Sidhu et al., 2000). In conjunction with land-use and land-cover changes, investigation of relevant geomorphometric characteristics serves as a more holistic indicator of watershed status. Geomorphometric characteristics such as hypsometric curves, hypsometric integrals (HI), drainage density and length of overland flow are important indicators of watershed conditions (Ritter, 1986). The shape of the hypsometric curve explains whether alteration in slope has taken place in comparison to the original basin. The HI expresses, as a percentage, the volume of original basin that remains (Ritter, 1986). These parameters are important indicators for assessing the watershed health in the fragile watersheds in the Himalayan region. Drainage density is closely associated with erosion processes, lithology, relief and vegetation. It relates morphology to soil properties and climate (Berger and Entekhabi, 2001; Roth and La Barbara, 1997) and plays an important role in shaping the watershed through erosion, deposition and sediment transport processes (Tucker et al., 2001). Despite the significance of these important environmental variables, our knowledge of land-cover dynamics and influence of geomorphometric characteristics on watershed quality is poorly studied in Nepal. In this study, we utilize GIS and include the geomorphometric characteristics of the watersheds for explaining its situation. So, the objectives set for the study are to:

* Assess land-use/land-cover change in two middle mountain (Mardi and Fewa) watersheds of Nepal. * Examine distribution of agricultural land by slope classes within the watersheds to determine land suitability. * Compute geomorphometric parameters such as hypsometry, drainage density and length of overland flow using GIS tools to explain watershed conditions. * Develop a management strategy.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Study Area

Two watersheds, Mardi and Fewa, in the Kaski District, Western Development Region of Nepal, were selected for this study (Figure 1). The landscape is steeply dissected in both watersheds. Important information for these watersheds is listed in Table I.

Land-use Study Approach

Land-use maps were developed from two series of aerial photos (1:50 000 nominal scale) taken during 1978 (photo serial 7932-121 to 125, 7932-161 to 165, and 7938-12 to 15) and 1996 (photo serial L108–25 to 27, L109-42 to 45, L110-35 to 37 and L111-21 to 22). Before interpretation of the aerial photographs a land-use and land-cover

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LAND-USE CHANGE IN TWO NEPALESE WATERSHEDS Figure 1. Location map of study area. reconnaissance was carried

Figure 1. Location map of study area.

reconnaissance was carried out in August 2000, by which a general understanding of the land-use and land-cover status of the study area was obtained. Land use within both watersheds was classified into the categories as shown in Figures 2a and 2b. Cover types were classified as follows:

* Class 1: <10 per cent tree cover (shrubs, grazing, and clear lands) * Class 2: 10–20 per cent tree cover (scattered tree cover) * Class 3: 20–40 per cent tree cover (open woodlands)

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Table I. Description of study areas

K. D. AWASTHI ET AL.

 

Fewa watershed

Mardi watershed

I.

Elevation variation: 780–2480 m

915–5590 m

II.

Co-ordinates: 28 11 0 0 00 to 28 17 0 30 00 N

28 19 0 to 28 29 0 N and 83 50 0 to 83 56 0 E

III.

and 87 47 0 30 00 to 83 59 0 30 00 E Mean annual temperature: 18 C

15 C

Broad-leaved mixed hardwood forest at lower elevations and

IV.

Average annual rainfall: 4500 mm

4300 mm

V. Geology: watershed lies between two major faults running parallel to each other. The dominant bedrocks are phyllite, schist, and quartzite and dip angle of bedrock varies from 15 to 60 . Valley bottoms consist of unconsolidated sediment. The main physiographic features in the watershed are lake, alluvial valley, hills and mountains VI. Dominant vegetation: broad-leaved mixed hardwood forest VII. Climate: monsoonal with hot–dry subtropical in valleys to warm moist temperate at higher elevations VII. Common soils: Dystric Luvisols, Dystric Cambisols in gentle slopes, Regosols in steep slopes, and Fluvisols in flat and river valleys

Major thrust plane passes through the northern part of the watershed. The dominant bedrocks are phyllite, quartzite, and dolomite and dip angle of bedrock varies from 15 to 60 . Valley bottoms consist of unconsolidated sediment. The main physiographic features are alluvial valley, hills, mountains and narrow valleys.

coniferous forest at higher elevations Monsoonal with hot–dry subtropical in valleys to alpine in higher elevations Dystric Luvisol and Dystric Cambisol in gentle slopes, Rigosols in steep slopes, and Fluvisols in flat and river valleys

* Class 4: 40–60 per cent tree cover (open forest) * Class 5: >60 per cent tree cover (dense forest)

Based upon these classifications draft maps of land use and land cover for both watersheds were prepared for the years 1978 and 1996. Field verification was carried out in October 2000 to improve the accuracy of the land-use map of 1996 and corrections were made on the draft map before finalizing it.

Database Development and Analysis

The spatial database development consists of land-use and land-cover maps derived from interpretation of aerial photos taken during 1978 and 1996 and topographical maps prepared by His Majesty’s Government, Department of Survey (LRMP, 1986), Nepal. The land-use and land-cover maps were digitized and processed using ArcView 3 1 desktop environment. Elevation data for the DEM were derived from 1:25 000 scale topographic maps and slope inclination maps were derived from the DEM (ESRI, 1996). Slope inclination was selected as one of the principal limiting parameters for agricultural land-use distribution. Slopes were classified into the following ranges 41, 1–5, 5–30 and >30 degrees based on Land Resources Mapping Project classifications (LRMP, 1986) for Nepal. Spatial analysis was performed for quantifying the land- use changes. The flow chart of the process involved in spatial analysis is shown in Figure 3.

Calculating Hypsometric Curves and Hypsometric Integrals

The incision of the drainage basin has a profound effect on the hypsometry of the basin (Bishop et al., 2002; Ritter, 1986). The hypsometric curve is related to the volume of the rock in the basin, and the amount of erosion that had occurred in a basin vs. what still remains (Hurtrez et al., 1999). The hypsometric integral thus helps in explaining the erosion that has taken place during the geological time scale (Bishop et al., 2002). Comparison of the shape of the hypsometric curve for a different basin in a similar climatic condition and approximately equal area also provides relative insight into the past soil movement of basins. The hypsometric curve represents the relative proportions of a basin area that lies below a given height. For a selected basin, the range of basin was divided into equal intervals. For each interval the proportion of the basin area

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LAND-USE CHANGE IN TWO NEPALESE WATERSHEDS Figure 2a. Land use map of Fewa watershed (1996). CC

Figure 2a. Land use map of Fewa watershed (1996). CC ¼ Crown Cover; // Khet ¼ irrigated rice;

Bari ¼ rainfed maize and millet.

//

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K. D. AWASTHI ET AL.

500 K. D. AWASTHI ET AL. Figure 2b. Land use map of Mardi watershed (1996). Copyright

Figure 2b. Land use map of Mardi watershed (1996).

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LAND-USE CHANGE IN TWO NEPALESE WATERSHEDS Figure 3. Flow chart showing processes involved in land-use and

Figure 3. Flow chart showing processes involved in land-use and land-cover change analysis.

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K. D. AWASTHI ET AL.

was calculated. Elevations and areas were divided by the relief and total watershed area so that they range from 0

to 1. The HI represents the area under the hypsometric curve and is computed as shown in Equation (1) (Hurtrez

et al., 1999)

HI ¼

Elev Elev min

Elev max Elev min

ð1Þ

where elev is the mean elevation of the watershed, elev min and elev max are minimum and maximum elevations

within the watershed. Hypsometric curves were interpreted as youth (convex upward curves), mature (S-shaped

curves) and peneplain or distorted (concave upwards curves) stages of landscape evolution. Convex hypsometric

curves are more likely typical of plateaux with little erosion, which can evolve into an S shape, while

concave hypsometric curves indicate greater importance of erosion (Hurtrez et al., 1999), such as Himalayan

mountain watersheds, which are vulnerable to erosion due to high monsoon rainfall and intense pre-monsoon

storms.

Drainage Density and Length of Overland Flow

Drainage density is a fundamental property of the natural terrain, which reflects local geology, climatic condition,

topography, vegetation and soils (Berger and Entekhabi, 2001; Ritter, 1986), It represents the degree to which a

landscape was dissected by stream channels (Tucker et al., 2001). The drainage density and length of overland flow

are computed as shown in Equations (2) and (3) (Ritter, 1986)

D d ¼

L

A

L 0 ¼

1

2D d

ð2Þ

ð3Þ

where L is the total length of the channel within the watershed area A and L 0 is the length of overland flow in

kilometres. D d has dimensions of inverse length and varies with climate, vegetation and other factors. A low value

of D d corresponds to terrain with long hill slopes and a high D d indicates a dissected terrain (Berger and Entekhabi,

2001).

The soil erosion is a function of slope length and increases with increasing slope length (Gabriels, 1999,

Wischmeier and Smith, 1978). Clarke and Rendell (2000) documented that badland slopes of initially >35 degrees

remodelled to form more gentle slopes of 12–17 degrees, increased the effective area for rainfall by increasing

slope length. The increase in slope length contributed 14 3 m 3 of soil loss in the form of slope and rill erosion.

Thus, watersheds with long lengths of overland flow have the potential for significantly increasing soil erosion and

land degradation.

Land Use and Land Cover

In both watersheds, on mountains with elevations >3000 m land cover was mainly forest with (Quercus sp.) and

(Rhododendron sp.). There were some pastures and meadows. In the mountains with elevations of 2000–3000 m

the forest type was (Betula alnoides) and rakchan (Daphniphyllun himalense). There were some areas cultivated

////

with millet and buckwheat. In the mountains with elevations of 1500–2000 m the forest type mainly consisted of

rakchan,

katus

//// //

(Castanopsis indica) and //// chilaune (Schima walichii). The primary crops grown within the

watersheds were maize and millet ( //

bari ) and rainfed rice (non-irrigated rice or

ghaiya). Mountains with low

///

ridges and narrow valleys (1000–1500 m) were dominated by katus and ////

//

chilaune forest together with maize, millet

and rainfed rice in cultivated areas. Valley bottoms were dominated by katus, ////

//

chilaune in association with //

sal

(Shoria robasta) forest and cultivation of early variety of maize and irrigated rice ( khet ).

//

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LAND-USE CHANGE IN TWO NEPALESE WATERSHEDS Figure 4. The area under different land uses in 1978

Figure 4. The area under different land uses in 1978 and 1996 in the two watersheds.

RESULTS

Land-Use and Land-Cover Changes

The land uses of watersheds have undergone significant alteration and transformations from 1978 (Figure 4) to 1996

(Figure 5). In general areas under forest and rice increased, whereas those under rainfed agriculture and shrub

decreased in both watersheds. Farmers abandoned substantial areas of marginal agricultural land in both watersheds.

The magnitude of abandoned land was found to be fourfold higher in the Mardi watershed than that in Fewa.

Abandoned lands had weed and shrub cover and were used for grazing and grass collection. The grazing and pasture

areas increased marginally in Fewa watershed whereas they remained unaltered in the Mardi watershed.

Land-cover change in both watersheds is shown in Figures 6 and 7. A decrease in cover class 1 and increase in

cover class 3 was observed in both watersheds. A slight increase in cover class 2 in the Mardi and cover Class 5 in

Fewa watersheds was also noted, while cover class 4 decreased marginally in the Mardi watershed but remained

unchanged in the Fewa watershed. From 1978 to 1996, the net land cover in the Mardi watershed increased by

more than twofold (2 4 per cent) of that of the Fewa watershed (1 1 per cent).

Internal Trading of Land Uses

Internal trading among different land uses was investigated in both watersheds and is illustrated in Figur 8a and b.

About 80 per cent of the net forest cover increase in the Mardi watershed occurred at the expense of shrub and

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K. D. AWASTHI ET AL.

504 K. D. AWASTHI ET AL. Figure 5. Change in land use from 1978 to 1996

Figure 5. Change in land use from 1978 to 1996 in the two watersheds.

grazing land, while only 20 per cent of the increase was at the expense of agricultural land. In the Fewa watershed,

however, shrub and grazing areas contributed roughly half, while other land uses such as plantation, pasture and

barren, contributed the remaining proportion of the net increase in forest cover. Meanwhile a significant area of

forest (91 and 118 ha in the Mardi and Fewa watersheds respectively) was converted to agricultural land.

On the whole, internal trading between other land uses and shrub/grazing land was minor in the Mardi

watershed. In the Fewa watershed, however, 30 ha of shrub land changed to other land uses (plantation and pasture)

along with 110 ha from other land uses converted to shrubs/grazing land.

Distribution of Agricultural Land by Slope Category

In both watersheds, flat lands with less than 5 degrees slopes accounted for only a small fraction (6 per cent) of the

total agricultural area (Table II) whereas, large proportions of agricultural land (79 per cent in the Mardi watershed

and 88 per cent in the Fewa watershed) was observed to be on steep to very steep slopes (5–30 degrees).

Approximately 15 and 6 per cent of the agricultural land in the Mardi and Fewa watersheds, respectively, was

located on inclinations >30 degrees, despite a very high risk of soil erosion and landslides. The land use for crop

production on these steep slopes typically had suffered from extensive topsoil loss and nutrient depletion,

presumably leading to the observed abandonment of the cultivated land by farmers.

Hypsometric Curve and Hypsometric Integral

The concave shape of the hypsometric curves (Figure 9) and the low values of HI (Table III) indicate that both

watersheds are in the peneplain or at the deteriorating stage. This suggests that there has been significant incision,

downslope movement of topsoil and bedrock material and washout of the soil mass since their formation.

Drainage Density and Length of Overland flow

The results from the analysis of drainage density and length of overland flow revealed that the watersheds have low

drainage density with long length of overland flow (Table III). Thus the watersheds are subjected to high rates of

surface soil erosion during the high-intensity monsoon rainfall.

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LAND-USE CHANGE IN TWO NEPALESE WATERSHEDS Figure 6. The area under different cover classes in 1978

Figure 6. The area under different cover classes in 1978 and 1996 in the two watersheds.

Cover Change with Respect to Terrain

Terrain analysis with respect to cover change revealed that terrain slope was the limiting factor for the latter.

Though the cover change spreads over a wide range of terrain slope, most of it had taken place either on steep

slopes or on gentle slopes. Moderate slopes between 10 and 20 degrees were found to be less affected (Table IV).

Of the increased forest cover, the steeper slopes had gained more than the gentle slopes in both watersheds.

DISCUSSION

Land-Use and Land-Cover Changes

As the data for forest conditions in Nepal before 1954 are scarce the period after could be divided into two phases.

Between 1950 and 1978 was a phase of agricultural expansion. During the 1950s Nepal’s forest resources were

estimated at 48 per cent of the total land area. Later reports showed a continuous decline of the forest cover (FRS,

1967; FRS, 1973; LRMP, 1986; MPFS, 1988). The forest area shrank to 27 3 per cent in 1996 (FRI, 1999). In 1957,

the Forest Nationalization Act was enacted and all the non-cultivated lands were placed under the jurisdiction of

birta

the Forest Department. This Act along with // (government registering the large areas of land in the name of a

person as an appreciation of ones contribution to the country) Abolition Act (1959) and Land Reform Act (1964)

formally reinforced the government ownership over the forest and in practice encouraged villagers to clear the

forest to maintain ownership of the land (Mahat et al., 1986). At the same time introduction of modern healthcare,

and a malaria suppression programme in the subtropical valleys and plains resulted in an unpredictable growth of

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K. D. AWASTHI ET AL.

506 K. D. AWASTHI ET AL. Figure 7. Change in tree cover from 1978 to 1996

Figure 7. Change in tree cover from 1978 to 1996 in the two watersheds.

population (Ives and Messerli, 1989), which led to increasing demand for fuelwood, timber, fodder and agricultural

land. The expansion first accelerated in the subtropical valleys, southern plains and marginal lands, until physical

and ecological constraints (bogs, fens, shallow soils and very steep slopes) were encountered, and the rapid

expansion also affected the forest; these are the main factors for the decline of the forest cover.

The second phase, after 1978, witnessed increasing government intervention for integrated land use and natural

resources management. Driving forces were the implementation of hill community forestry, integrated soil

conservation and watershed management programmes and an operational forest management plan. In 1976 the

Panchayat (local village authority) forest regulations were passed and communities began to act on the basis of these

////

regulations (Fox, 1993). Afforestation efforts in the 1980s resulted in a significant increase in forest cover (Brown

and Shrestha, 2000) as line agencies, national and international non-governmental organizations, started working at

grassroots level. Consequently there was a decline in expansion of agricultural land and a total of 622 178 ha of

degraded forest was handed over to the community organizations for regeneration, protection and management

(Mahat et al., 1987; Kathmandu Post, 10 October 2001). Thus, due to community protection and management of the

forests that had been handed over, some thin forests had been converted to dense ones and degraded forests

regenerated to immature ones, indicating an increase in forest cover. This marginal increase results from the

implementation of the community forestry programme through the Fewa Watershed Management Programme in the

Fewa watershed and the Annapuran Conservation Area Programme in the Mardi watershed. In these watersheds,

degraded lands were handed to the community for protection and management and massive plantation was also

carried out in badly degraded lands during the 1980s to establish the vegetative cover (Fox, 1993).

These optimistic results are found to be consistent with findings of the similar studies in the hills of Nepal. Fox

(1993) mentioned a significant improvement in private and government forest in the mid-hill area of the Gorkha

District. He attributed this primarily to the introduction of community management of the forests. The studies

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LAND-USE CHANGE IN TWO NEPALESE WATERSHEDS Figure 8. Land-use dynamics from 1978 to 1996 (a) Mardi

Figure 8. Land-use dynamics from 1978 to 1996 (a) Mardi watershed (b) Fewa watershed (þ) sign indicates increase in land use whereas ( )

Copyright # 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

sign indicates decrease in land use type.

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K. D. AWASTHI ET AL.

Table II. Distribution of the agricultural area by slope category in Mardi and Fewa watersheds. Numbers in the parentheses

indicate the percentage of total agriculture land in the watersheds

Slope gradients

Type of agricultural land

Mardi watershed (ha)

Fewa watershed (ha)

41

Khet

6 (0 2)

22 (0 4)

//

>1 and 45

Khet

166 (5 3)

316 (5 9)

//

>5 and 430

Bari

1036 (32 8)

1758 (33 0)

//

 

Khet

1474 (46 7)

2906 (54 6)

//

>30

Bari

313 (9 9)

182 (3 4)

//

 

Khet

160 (5 1)

142 (2 7)

//

Total

3155 (100)

5326 (100)

Note: Khet ¼ irrigated rice; // Bari ¼ rainfed maize and millet.

//

carried out by Gilmore and Nurse (1991) and Brown and Shrestha (2000) in the Jhikhu Khola catchments reported

increase in the forest cover largely associated with planting of trees in degraded lands and abandonment of

marginal terraces at low elevations. However, the results differ compared with the earlier studies of land-use

change in the plains and hills in the eastern region (Sah et al., 1997) and in the subtropical riparian corridors within

the Makalu Barun National Park and Conservation Area (Zomer et al., 2001) of Nepal where it has been shown that

land cover has decreased in their respective study areas.

Internal Trading of Land Uses

Internal trading among land-use categories in the watersheds are due to abandoning of shifting cultivation at the

higher elevations, converting of low-lying shrub lands into rice fields, increase of forest cover in community

protected forests, plantation on degraded private lands, clearing of low-lying forests for agricultural expansion and

timber harvest for fuelwood and timber for construction. A similar trend of internal trading among different land-

use categories over a similar time interval had also been reported in middle mountains and tropical riparian forest

of eastern Nepal (Tamrakar et al., 1991; Zomer et al., 2001).

508 K. D. AWASTHI ET AL. Table II. Distribution of the agricultural area by slope category

Figure 9. Hypsometric curves of Fewa and Mardi watersheds.

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Table III. Drainage density, length of overland flow and hypsometric integrals

 

Parameters

Mardi watershed

 

Fewa watershed

Length of drainage (L) km

Total drainage area of watershed (A) km 2

 

485

145

412

120

Drainage density D d ¼

L

A

 

km 1

3 3

3 4

 

Length of over land flow

1

2D

 

km

 

0 152

 

0 145

 

d

Maximum elevation (m)

5590

2480

Minimum elevation (m)

915

780

Average elevation (m)

3135

1687

Hypsometric integrals (HI)

0 47

0 53

Table IV. Summary of cover change with respect to terrain from 1978 to 1996

 
 

Mardi watershed

Fewa watershed

 

From

To

Area (ha)

Slope range

From

To

Area (ha)

Slope range

 

(degree)

(degree)

Forest

Bari

24 4

15–25

Forest

Bari

40

15–25

//

//

Khet

66 6

2–12

Khet

74 4

1–11

//

//

 

Shrub

2 4

25–30

Shrub

11 2

8–11

Grazing

8 6

30–45

Grazing

2 9

5–12

Bari

Forest

89 2

25–65

Bari

Forest

65 1

25–55

//

Khet

19 4

4–12

//

Khet

33 7

7–12

//

//

 

Shrub

38 6

25–35

Shrub

27 6

25–35

Grazing

25 7

30–40

Grazing

2 2

30–38

 

Abandoned

65 6

 

20–45

Abandoned

9 7

22–43

 

Urban

1 7

10–17

Plantation

27 3

5–48

 

Pasture

27 7

23–39

Khet

Forest

60 1

1–12

Khet

Forest

52 4

8–12

//

Bari

4 6

12–22

//

Grazing

5 3

9–12

//

 
 

Shrub

2 9

1–15

Abandoned

7 7

3–7

Grazing

7 7

1–11

Plantation

10 3

8–12

 

Abandoned

4 2

 

8–20

Pasture

2 2

7–11

Shrub

Forest

185 1

15–33

Shrub

Forest

66 2

25–55

 

Bari

2 5

10–20

Bari

4 9

15–22

//

//

Khet

0 3

1–5

Khet

4 3

5–9

//

//

 

Grazing

Grazing

4 6

30–45

 

Plantation

2 15

20–57

Grazing

Forest

118

25–50

Grazing

Forest

11

26–48

 

Bari

4 3

20–35

Bari

0 9

20–28

//

//

Khet

26 6

5–10

Khet

29 6

1–10

//

//

 

Plantation

12 5

15–44

Pasture

14 3

19–53

 

Plantation

Forest

45 7

23–49

 

Bari

6 4

20–31

//

Khet

13 5

6–11

//

Grazing

99 7

18–54

 

Barren

Forest

21 5

1–35

 

Khet

3 5

1–9

//

Khet ¼ irrigated rice; // Bari ¼ rainfed maize and millet.

//

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LAND DEGRADATION & DEVELOPMENT, 13: 495–513 (2002)

510

K. D. AWASTHI ET AL.

Distribution of Agricultural Land by Slope Category

Not surprisingly, a large portion of agricultural land is located on steep to very steep slopes and it is practised under

the most difficult circumstances. Traditional crop farming is the main occupation and only source of livelihood for

the Himalayan mountain farmers, but the productvity of the crops is very low and is not able to meet more than 30

per cent of food grain requirement of the local people (Tiwari, 2000). The land holdings are of less than 1 ha and

are scattered over long distances on the mountain slopes. The irrigated land (<5 degree slopes) is about 6 per cent

of the total agricultural land in both watersheds. Approximately 15 and 6 per cent of the agricultural land in Mardi

and Fewa watersheds respectively was found on inclinations >30 degrees and the rest lies between 5 and 30

degrees slopes (Table II). A study carried out by Thapa and Weber (1995) in the upper Pokhara valley in Nepal, had

documented similar results and had stated that nearly 60 per cent of all agricultural land is ecologically unsuitable

for cultivation and about 22 per cent of that land has a slope gradient greater than 30 degrees.

Hypsometric Curve and Hypsometric Integral

The comparison between the two curves in Figure 9 shows only a marginal difference in mass removal from the

Mardi and Fewa watersheds. For centuries, the soil erosion from large drainage basins is derived primarily from

the incision of channel beds and cutting of stream banks. Topographic evidence shows landscape concavity where

river incision is active. The hypsometric integral shows the landmass volume remaining for the whole watershed

(Bishop et al., 2002) since the formation of drainage basin. Our analysis estimated hypsometric integrals of 0 47

and 0 53 indicating only 47 and 53 per cent of original rock mass remaining in Mardi and Fewa watersheds

respectively (Table III).

Drainage Density and Length of Overland flow

Analysis of DEM supported by DSWC (1980) showed that watershed slopes approaches to 80 to 85 degrees in the

southern part of the Fewa and northern part of the Mardi watersheds. Like elsewhere in Nepal, geological erosion

occurs in the watersheds under study, but this is accelerated by anthropogenic activities such as deforestation of

steep slopes, overgrazing, unsound agricultural practices and concentrations of the surface run-off on trails.

Erosive rainfall (rain storms higher than 12 5 mm of rainfall or 6 25 mm of rainfall in 15 min) is very common in

the area (DSWC, 1980) and rainfall data for the years 1993, 1994 and 1996 from the Fewa watershed recording

station revealed 1025, 1050 and 950 mm of erosive rainfall respectively. Annual erosive rainfall in the area was

found to be much higher than 550 mm as was reported by DSWC (1980). About 47 and 39 per cent of the

watershed is under permanent cover in Mardi and Fewa watershed respectively. Hence, torrential rainstorms

combined with steep slopes, long length of overland flow and shattered lithology accelerates the process of land

degradation (Ives, 1987; Ives and Messerli, 1989). The estimated annual soil erosion rates for the middle

mountains ranges from 0 8 to 70 Mg ha 1 in agricultural lands, from 20 to 273 Mg ha 1 for grazing land and from

29 to 180 Mg ha 1 for shrub lands (Pahari, 1993; Shrestha and Zinck, 1999; Sah et al., 1997). The average annual

sediment contribution to the Fewa Lake from the watershed draining into it has been estimated to be as high as

15 Mg

ha 1 (Stapit and Balla, 1998).

The estimates of the soil loss (or net soil erosion) at the field scale, however, do not include the other component

of the sediment flux to a channel network, namely the part delivered by the geomorphic or gravitational process.

Over the time scale of decades many stream channels draining the alluvial, agricultural fields and other disturbed

watersheds become unstable and exhibit wide fluctuations in the rate of soil erosion, due to the formation of new

drainage systems (Osterkamp and Toy, 1997). The rate of soil erosion in the Himalayan mountains which are

geodynamically unstable and ecologically sensitive is proportional to steepness, drainage density and the slope

lengths (Ives, 1987). Drainage density varies from 3 to 1300 per unit area depending on climate and geology of the

region, and the low value of the drainage density corresponds to a landscape with an average long length of

overland flow (Berger and Entekhabi, 2001; Ritter, 1986)). The lengths of overland flow are potentially long in

watersheds of Nepal (DSWC, 1980) and our analysis of length of overland flow and drainage density also showed

long lengths of overland flow 152 and 145 m and low drainage densities 3 3 and 3 4 (Table III) for Mardi and Fewa

watersheds respectively. Hence, the watersheds studied are vulnerable to soil erosion and land degradation.

Copyright # 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

LAND DEGRADATION & DEVELOPMENT, 13: 495–513 (2002)

LAND-USE CHANGE IN TWO NEPALESE WATERSHEDS

Error Analysis

511

The process by which our special database was created from a source map was complex and errors of various types

may have been introduced at each step, such as error due to land-use classification, transformation, cursor

positioning, point selection and modelling the thematic layers created from the maps of different scales. Results

from analysis of digital data point to an insignificant increase in the percentage of forest cover in the study areas

between 1978 and 1996. Although we were able to detect distinct patterns of change in the percentage of land use

and forest cover between 1978 and 1996, it is clear that our estimates of the changes of forest cover and other land

uses were not error free. Hall et al. (1991) distinguished between two sources of error that may influence the

estimates of land-use changes derived from a comparison of aerial photographs taken at different time intervals: (a)

errors in the classification of individual aerial photograph (classification error) and (b) error due to spatial

mismatching (positional error). The magnitude of each source of error can be estimated using standard techniques

such as overall accuracy or the kappa statistics and the root mean square (RMS) error, respectively. Evaluating the

combined accuracy of these errors on the empirically derived estimates of land-use change is not simple (Kadmon

and Harari-Kremer, 1999).

The spatial mismatching of the photographs used for determining change in land use may lead to overestimation

of the land-use changes and to reduce this source of error, only changes of more than 10 per cent in the percentage

land use of particular land use or vegetation will then be considered as true changes (Callaway and Davis, 1993).

However, Hall et al. (1991) noted that uncertainty in the data used to estimate the land-use changes may lead to

two contrasting types of errors: (a) when, in fact there is change, an erroneous observation of no change and (b) an

erroneous observation of change when there is no change. Evaluating the combined effect of erroneous

classification and positional error on the accuracy of land-use changes from digital processing of the maps

derived from the interpretation of the aerial photograph is an important issue which is beyond the scope of this

paper and requires considerable further innovation and effort.

Management Strategy

It can be inferred from the results that these watersheds are undergoing continuous degradation. Some points can

be singled out here that could be helpful for minimizing the degradation and improving the watershed health. First,

it is necessary to control the population growth, so as to attain both economically and environmentally sustainable

development. Household economies in the Nepalese mountains are predominately based on subsistence

agriculture and require very high demand of labour to cultivate field crops, repair terraces, take care of livestock,

collect fuelwood and fodder (Mahat et al., 1987; Thapa and Weber, 1995; Brown and Shrestha, 2000). In designing

a population programme due consideration should be given to the alternatives that are favourable to reducing

agricultural labour demand and promoting locally viable non-farming employment opportunities, e.g. promotion

of bamboo-, fruit-, herbs- and beverage-based cottage industries and of tourism. It can be predicted that the

availability of adequate non-farming employment and income generating opportunities could help in adaptation of

family planning and effectively change the increase of population pressure on the land resources.

Second, as the current cropping practice requires regular ploughing and tilling of the soil on the steep lands,

which is one of the primary causes of land degradation, a change in land use especially from the current existing

subsistence farming system to tree-crop-based system is essential (Thapa, 1990; Thapa and Weber, 1995). The

focus on tree-crop-based activities (fruits, herbs, spices) would not only be effective to the environment, but it

would also generate wider income opportunities. More than 90 per cent of the agriculture is practised on the critical

slopes of greater than 5 degrees in both watersheds; 50 per cent of the watershed area is under intense agriculture

(DSWC, 1980), have acute problem of soil erosion due to loss of soil, especially during the monsoon (Thapa and

Weber, 1995). The DSWC (1980) had recommended that the areas between 22 and 30 degrees, 30 and 40 degrees

and >40 degrees slope gradients should be kept under silvipasture, horticulture and permanent protection forest,

respectively.

Third, terracing is essential for the slope gradients between 9 and 22 degrees. If implemented carefully, it would

not only reduce the vulnerability of soil erosion, but also help restoration of the watershed environment and boost

the household income as well.

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LAND DEGRADATION & DEVELOPMENT, 13: 495–513 (2002)

512

K. D. AWASTHI ET AL.

Fourth, there is evidence in the form of furrows and soil erosion in barren areas due to grazing animals close to

settlements up to 35 Mg ha 1 (Thapa and Weber, 1995). Free grazing should be restricted, encouraging or

enforcing better management, e.g. stall-feeding or rotational grazing.

Finally, attention should be given to further strengthening the local community organizations to manage the

scrub and grazing land more effectively. Weak institutions and government policies should be recognized as

important contributing factors to watershed degradation. Formulation and implementation of a comprehensive

strategy to meet the challenges of 21st century is essential.

CONCLUSION

Overall results of this study indicate that interpretation of historical aerial photographs may serve as an effective

tool for the detection and quantification of long-term patterns of land-use change dynamics and change in

geomorphological characteristics. The ability of GIS to integrate the digital maps of land use derived from

interpretation of temporal sequences of aerial photographs with DEM provides a new opportunity for analysing

patterns of long-term land-use dynamics with respect the terrain. The geomorphometric analyses revealed that the

watersheds had undergone severe erosion during the past and are susceptible to surface erosion and soil

degradation. Land-use and land-cover changes alone are not sufficient for explaining the watershed situation.

Thus, geomorphometric based analysis combined with land-use changes may be useful in the high rainfall areas

within which a wide variety of analytical results can be effectively integrated using GIS for explaining the current

situation and future vulnerability of watershed to erosion and land degradation. Some suggestions for management

can be derived from this study.

acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Research Council of Norway (through the Nepal Project

131692/730) for conducting the research work in Nepal. We are also grateful to Professor M. K. Balla and

Professor A. K. Das of the Institute of Forestry, Pokhara (IOF), Nepal, for their overall guidance and support for

conducting the research in Nepal. We would also like to acknowledge Mr Laxman Shrestha and Mr N. R.

Chapagain for their technical help.

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