Assessing potential locations for flood-based farming using satellite imagery: a case study of Afar region, Ethiopia

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The dry lowlands of Ethiopia are seasonally affected by long periods of low rainfall and, coinciding with rainfall in the Amhara highlands, flood waters which flow onto the lowlands resulting in damage to landscapes and settlements. In an attempt to convert water from storm generated floods into productive use, this study proposes a methodology using remote sensing data and geographical information system tools to identify potential sites where flood spreading weirs may be installed and farming systems developed which produce food and fodder for poor rural communities. First, land use land cover maps for the study area were developed using Landsat-8 and MODIS temporal data. Sentinel-1 data at 10 and 20 m resolution on a 12-day basis were then used to determine flood prone areas. Slope and drainage maps were derived from Shuttle RADAR Topography Mission Digital Elevation Model at 90 m spatial resolution.

Accuracy assessment using ground survey data showed that overall accuracies (correctness) of the land use/land cover classes were 86% with kappa 0.82. Coinciding with rainfall in the uplands, March and April are the months with flood events in the short growing season (belg) and June, July and August have flood events during the major (meher) season. In the Afar region, there is potentially >0.55 m ha land available for development using seasonal flood waters from belg or meher seasons. During the 4 years of monitoring (2015–2018), a minimum of 142,000 and 172,000 ha of land were flooded in the belg and meherseasons, respectively.

The dominant flooded areas were found in slope classes of <2% with spatial coverage varying across the districts. We concluded that Afar has a huge potential for flood-based technology implementation and recommend further investigation into the investments needed to support new socio-economic opportunities and implications for the local agro-pastoral communities.