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Impact of stone bunds on temporal and spatial variability of soil physical properties: A field study from northern Ethiopia

Klik, Andreas, Schürz, Christoph, Strohmeier, Stefan, Demelash Melaku, Nigus, Ziadat, Feras, Schwen, Andreas, Zucca, Claudio
Land degradation & development 2018 v.29 no.3 pp. 585-595
agricultural land, bulk density, bunds, crop yield, farmers, growing season, highlands, infiltrometers, runoff, saturated hydraulic conductivity, soil conservation, soil density, soil water, soil water retention, temporal variation, topographic slope, water conservation, water content, watersheds, wet season, Ethiopia
In the Ethiopian Highlands, stone bunds (SBs) are a common practice for soil and water conservation, influencing runoff and erosion processes from sloped agricultural areas. The objective of this study was to investigate how SBs affect spatiotemporal relationships of these processes to better understand their impacts on soil water development at the smallholder farmer's field level. Study area was the Gumara‐Maksegnit Watershed in northern Ethiopia, where two representative transects were investigated: One transect crossed a 71 m‐long field intersected by 2 SBs traced along the contour. The second transect crossed a similar hillslope without conservation structures at a length of 55 m representing baseline (untreated) conditions (no stone bund). During the rainy season of 2012, bulk density and volumetric water content were monitored, and tension disc infiltrometer experiments were performed to determine the saturated hydraulic conductivity and to derive soil water retention characteristics. Our observations show that SB decreased significantly soil bulk density in center and lower zones of SB transect compared with no stone bund. No temporal change was observed. Results targeting the surface soil moisture indicate that infiltration was higher with SB and happened earlier in the rainy season in the zones around the SBs. Saturated hydraulic conductivity was positively affected by SB and increased significantly. Improved soil hydrology by SB fields may increase crop yields by higher soil water contents but also by extending the growing season after the rainy season. Therefore, SBs are a successful measure to establish climate‐resilient agriculture in the Ethiopian Highlands.