Land Capability and Suitability Evaluation for Rain-fed Crops in Semi-arid Lowland Area of North Ethiopia
Evaluation of land characteristics for the current and potential suitability of crop production is essential to planning. This study was conducted to evaluate the capability and suitability of the land for rain-fed crop production. The study was conducted in Hitsats of Northern Ethiopia, where Eritrean refugees and domestic populations are high. The area is located at 37°52’30’’ to 38° 0’30’’E and 14°8’0’’ to 14°1’3’’N. Land of the study area was classified into four homogeneous land unit maps based on topography. It is a semi-arid lowland area where natural resources are degrading due to traditional gold mining as well as extensive and expanding crop cultivation. Slope was generated from Digital Elevation Model using Arc Map Version 9.3. Soil profiles were opened from each land units to measure soil depth and drainage conditions. Besides, representative soil samples from a depth of 0-20 cm were collected to examine physical and chemical properties of the soil. Moreover, bio-physical and climatic data were collected and analyzed. The chemical soil analyses showed that the area has low electrical conductivity indicating that it is salt free. The soil property analyses results indicate that the area is highly susceptible to erosion and has low fertility that limit the land capability for various field crops. Generally, three land unit maps were rated as capable for rain-fed crop production. Whereas, the fourth land unit was not capable due to permanent limitations associated with slope and soil depth. The area was found to have 117 days of growing period, which is moderately suitable for all the rain-fed crops cultivated in the area (sorghum, finger miller and sesame). Sorghum and finger millet were limited by rainfall whereas suitability of the area for sesame was limited by temperature. Soil and landscape suitability evaluation showed that all land unit maps are marginally suitable for the rain-fed crops. The overall land suitability was marginal for all the principal crop due to poor soil fertility, slope and high erosion aggravated by deforestation and traditional gold mining on farmlands. Considering the potential land suitability, 62.05% is highly suitable for sorghum and finger millet but moderately suitable for sesame, 26.06% moderately suitable for all crops and 11.89% not suitable. The land suitability of the area can be enhanced by implementing appropriate interventions such as soil and water conservation, improving soil fertility as well as agronomic practices..