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Investigating historical ecological and land-use patterns as a basis for agro-forestry

By Allister Starke, Forest Science Postgraduate, University of Pretoria
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On the Maputaland coastal plain, agricultural land-use is dominated by Eucalypt plantations, which reduce groundwater availability. But are there alternatives for communities to support their livelihoods?

SAEON is expanding its research into this area on the Indian Ocean coast of Southern Africa to understand the relative impacts of land-use and climate on ecosystem dynamics, in particular how groundwater is responding to long-term climate change.

Multiple-use agroforestry system

My PhD forms part of a broader Water Research Commission -funded project which is looking to understand the impact of land-use and ecosystem dynamics on groundwater in this area. Working closely with the SAEON Grasslands-Forests-Wetlands Node under Profs Colin Everson and Tim O’Connor, the project is investigating the water use of different agricultural and ecological land-use components of the Maputaland coastal plain, which could be developed into multiple-use agroforestry system(s).

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A SAEON project is investigating the water use of different agricultural and ecological land-use components of the Maputaland coastal plain, which could be developed into multiple-use agroforestry system(s)

Under a sustainable development model, there should be an equitable balance between the consumption of water resources by forestry practices (both on the commercial and small scale-grower level) with domestic, agricultural and wildlife/conservation needs in water-stressed catchments. Reduced water supply to wetlands also impacts environmental goods and services, while landscape fragmentation, a changing fire regime and climate change support increased woody shrub and tree cover at the expense of grasslands, which also negatively impacts groundwater.

The research incorporates historic ecological and cultural land-use patterns as a basis for agro-forestry system(s), by looking at coastal forest expansion and how this resource could be utilised. It will also assess grazing potential across topographical landscape changes (i.e. dune slacks and depressions) and determine how this could assist pastoral practice; review the strengths and weaknesses of suitable indigenous tree crops and apply this knowledge to their cultivation; and explore the concept of spatially compatible livestock and timber plantation management systems.

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The study will look at coastal forest expansion and how this resource could be utilised

Outputs will support sustainable water-use land practice in mitigating against extreme climate conditions (i.e. drought and floods) and pressure from increasing human populations.

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