A greater percentage of Northern Ghana is under threat of land degradation and is negatively impacting on the well-being of the people owing to deforestation, increasing incidence of drought, indiscriminate bush burning and desertification. The problem is becoming severe with serious implications on the livelihoods of the people as the land is the major resource from which they eke their living. Reversing land degradation requires sustainable land use planning which should be based on detailed up-to-date information on landscape attributes. This information can be generated through remote sensing analytical studies. Therefore, an attempt has been made in this study to collect data for planning by employing remote sensing techniques and ground truthing. The analysis included satellite image classification and change detection between Landsat images captured in 1989, 1999 and 2006. The images were classified into the following classes: water bodies, close savannah woodland, open savannah woodland, grassland/unharvested farmland, exposed soil, burnt scars, and settlement. Change detection performed between the 1989 and 1999 and 1989 and 2006 showed that the environment is deteriorating. Land covers such as close savannah woodland, open savannah woodland and exposed soil diminished over the period whereas settlement and water bodies increased. The grassland/unharvested farmland showed high increases because the images were captured at the time that some farms were still crops or crop residue. Urbanization, land clearing for farming, over grazing, firewood fetching and bush burning were identified as some of the underlying forces of vegetal cover degradation. The socio-cultural beliefs and practices of the people also influenced land cover change as sacred groves as well as medicinal plants are preserved. Local knowledge is recognized and used in the area but it is not properly integrated with scientific knowledge for effective planning for sustainable land management. This is due to lack of expertise in remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) in the area. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.
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