Land suitability evaluation for rainfed agriculture using GIS : the case study of Weenen Nature Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Ghebremeskel, Legesse Abraham.
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Weenen Nature Reserve (WNR) has a long history of unwise land use that resulted in severe overgrazing and soil degradation. Since 1948 several soil conservation and reclamation programs have been undertaken to halt the degradation process and regain the agricultural potential of the area. This study evaluates the current agricultural potential of the reserve under rainfed cultivation primarily based on climatic, soil, topographic and crop requirement data collected from different sources. Spatial information on each of the land resources parameters was digitally encoded in a GIS database to create thematic layers of the land resources. Crop requirement information on seven different crops that were selected as representative crops under rainfed agriculture in the area namely, maize, Sorg):mm, cotton, dry bean, soya bean, potato and cabbage was compared with the land resources parameters. The thematic layers of the land resources were then overlyed using a GIS to select areas that satisfy the crop requirements. The results showed that WNR has two major limitations in relation to its use for rainfed agriculture, namely its shallow and rocky soils and its arid climate. Consequently, the resulting land suitability maps indicate that WNR has very low suitability for all of the crops considered. Dry beans are relatively well adapted to the area followed by sorghum. Maize and soya beans are preferred over cotton. Potatoes'and cabbages are least adapted to the area because of the high temperatures during thCl/growing season. It was concluded that generally the reserve is not suitable for rainfed agriculture. However, there is a small area of land in the northern part of the reserve that can be cultivated. The rugged area in the central part of the reserve can be used for grazing with careful managemeIit. The eastern and southern parts can only be used as habitats for wildlife owing to their steep topography and inaccessibility, whereas the highly degraded areas in the western parts of the reserve should be kept under soil conservation and reclamation.