Overview of study sites in cropland

Authors: Constantinos Kosmas, Katerina Kounalaki, Mina Karamesouti, Giovanni Quaranta, Rosanna Salvia, Honghu Liu, Artemio Cerda, Michiel Curfs, Anton Imeson

Editor's note 3May2012: Text extracted from D711 section 7.4

Five cropland study sites have been selected; four of them are located in Mediterranean Europe and one in China. These are: (a) Messara Valley (Greece), (b) Alento River basin (Italy), (c) Canyoles River Basin (Spain), (d) Western Andévalo (Spain), and (e) Zhang Jiachong area (China). The selected study sites present a variety of environmental and socio-economic characteristics, various degrees of land degradation and desertification and particular responses to LEDD. An overview of the principal characteristics of the cropland study sites is given below.

Locations of the LEDDRA cropland study sites

In terms of their biophysical characteristics, the study sites of Messara Valley, Canyoles River Basin, and Western Andévalo are drier than the Alento River basin and the Zhang Jiachong area with a rainfall ranging between 250 mm to 800 mm, and 950 mm to 1590 mm, respectively (Table 1). Most of the rain in the European study sites falls between October and April, while in the China study site between June and September. The topography of the sites shows a variety of altitudes ranging from 0 m to up to 2453 m with a variety of slope gradients changing from almost flat (slope gradient 0-2%) to very steep (slope gradient >65%). The soils are characterized from very shallow (soil depth 15-30 cm) to deep (soil depth>100cm), formed on a variety of parent materials such as limestone, marl, schist, shale, sandstone, flysch, diorite, lava, alluvial deposits, etc. They are classified mainly as Leptosols, Cambisols, Fluvisols, and Luvisols.

Table 1. Main characteristics of the biophysical system of the study sites

Characteristcs Messara Valley Alento Canyoles River Basin Western Andévalo Zhang Jiachong
Size (ha) 91,145.3 55,000 4,287,020 13,542.4 242,700
Annual rainfall (mm)  493.5 <1000  693 200 - 1000 950 -1590
Annual air temperature (°C) 16.6 - 19.1 15 -18 17.5 ~17.9  6 - 18.3
Annual Potential ETo (mm) 1481 - 1549 ~1300 > 1000  ~ 900  ~1610
Geology Marls, Alluvium, Limestone, Flysch Flysch, limestone, alluvial deposits Limestones, marls, Keuper clays, Quaternay sediments Carboniferous of volcanic origin, sedimentary formations Limestone, igneous, gneis, marine deposits, shale, aluvial deposits
Altitude (m)  0 - 800 0-600 0 - 1000 0 - 200 100-1000
Slope (%) 0 - >35 20 - >50 2->35 Sloping land 8 - >35
Land Forms Level land, composite land forms, sloping land Steep land, sloping land, level land Rolling land, undulating, mderately steep, flat Undulating slope relief High mountains, small structural landforms, karst and valleys
Landslides Few in marls Many      Several
Soil types Cambisols, Fluvisols, Leptosols Regosols, Cambisols, Luvisols Cambisols, Fluvisols Leptosol, Regosol, Cambisol Regosols, Purple, soils, Paddy soils
Soil Texture Moderately fine, fine Moderately fine, fine, medium Coarse   Medium gravelly, gravelly
Soil Depth Moderately deep, moderately shallow, very deep  Moderately deep,moderately shallow, deep Moderately shalllow, moderately deep Shallow to moderately deep  
Rock Fragments Moderate to low Low to high Low to high High  
Soil Drainage Very well, well drained Well drained,moderately well drained      
Hydrological Network Medium hydrological network Dense hydrographic network Several ephemeral rivers Dense drainage system Many tributaries drained to Yangtze river
Water Bodies Two main rivers, three medium water rservoirs Surface and groundwater Surface waters and 3 main water reservoirs Surface water and two main reservoirs Surface and ground water, one major dam
Protected Areas No Unesco World Heritage, NATURA 2000 Natura 2000 1 SPA area and coastal areas  
Land cover          
Land Cover Cropland, natural grasslands Broad-leaved forest, cropland Forestry and semi-natural, cropland Forest and semi natural, cropalnd, wetlands Cropland, forestland,grassland

The study sites constitute a variety of agro-ecosystems such as cultivated land (mainly with olives, vines, annuals, oranges, and vegetables), dryland, and some inclusions of forest and mountainous ecosystems. The type of agriculture is characterized mainly as intensive, including ploughing, irrigation, fertilization, as well as less intensive agriculture for rainfed crops. The Italian study site belongs to the National Park of Cilento and Vallo di Diano which is a UNESCO site of World Heritage and includes sites of Community Interest and Special Protected Areas.

The population of the study sites shows various trends in the last decades. In the China study site, the population increased until 1990 and then decreased. In the other study sites, population remained stable or decreased slightly (Table 2). There was a movement of population to main cities or in areas with higher economic activity such as along the coast causing significant depopulation of rural areas. Local population has been affected by the contemporary migratory flows. In many cases, more migrants come to the areas than emigrants leave. The population pyramids, especially in the last two decades, show a consistent reduction in young population accompanied by a decrease of birth rates in the Mediterranean Europe study sites except. In China the birth rates were high until 1990 and then decreased in almost equal rates.

Table 2. Main characteristics of the human system of the study sites

Characteristcs Messara Valley Alento Canyoles River Basin Western Andévalo Zhang Jiachong
Population and population change
Population change over time 1991-2001:
decreased by 1.7%
1971: 44200
2001 : 43589
1900-2000: increase by 48% 1996: 21370
2010: 25132
1949: 242320
1979: 390234
2005: 389970
Population density (inhabitants per km²) 2001: 62.2 1961: 104.0 2001: 97.45 2010: 10 1996: ~35
2010: ~40
1979: 161
1990: 164
Sex and Age Structure Age 0-54: males>females
Age >55: females>males
Decrease of young people, increase of middle-aged people. Equal males and females in all ages Generally population is ageing   1979: male/ female = 104
2001: male/ female = 109
Birth and Death Rate   2002-2009: equal Birth rate
1975- 2007: decrease.
Death rate
1975-2007: slightly changed
Birth rate 1900-2010: decrease.
Death rate 1900-2010: decrease
Birth rate
1960-2010: decrease.
Death rate 1960-2010: decrease
Population Ageing 1991: 76.4%
2001: 124%
There is an increasing trend of ageing index 1961: 31.45
2001: 173.59
2010: 40% Index in the range from 100% to 300% 1982: 5.33%
1990: 6.19%
2000: 9.11%
Dependency 1991: 60%
2001: 58.7%
1961: 57.62%
2001: 58.16%
 2000 : ~53 %
2010 : ~50 %
  Youth dependency ratio: decreasing trend.
Old age dependency ratio:
Migration (in and out)   2002–2009: increased  Increased Fluctuation 1900-2010: increasing Increased
Economic structure and change
Employment   1991-2001: decrease by 8% Tertiary sector: 50%
Construction: 30%
Agriculture: <5%
Services (~60%) > Industry > Construction > Agriculture Employed 1982: 22.76×104 1990: 26.37×104
Output (GDP), Incomes       Annual average income per capita
2003: €8.130
1990-2005 GDP of China: 15,78%
2005: gross output value 22.71×108RMB
Value-added Investments   2004: decrease 7%,
2005: increase 9%
Industry VA 2001: 15.56% 2005: 14.85%
Services VA 2001: 76.39% 2005: 77.43%
  1955: €6,444
1975: €35,914
1993: €421,794
Trade Flow (imports, exports in constant prices)   2007
Total Exports: €2559 x10³
EU exports:
€1534x10³  Non-EU exports:
Social structure and change
Nationality Profile EU
1999: 28%
2007: 18%
1999: 32%
2007: 16%
2007: 6%
1999: 11%
2007: 6%
Other EU Country
1999: 20%
2007: 18%
    Huelva Province has the most temporary agricultural workers in Spain Almost all immigrants are indigenous
Educational Profile (by level of education) - Literacy rate Primary education 2001: 44.7%, University graduates 2001: 3.9%
Illiterates 2001: 5.8%
Elementary school
1971: 68%
2001: 28% Middle school 1971: 20%
2001: 33% High-school
1971: 10%
2001: 30% Graduates
1971: 2%
2001: 9% Literacy rate 1971: 63.3% 2001: 92%
    Illiterates and semi-illiterates 1982: 33.8%
1990: 23.8%
Employment to Population Ratio Agriculture: 25.6%,
Trade: 9%, Manufacturing: ~5%, constructions:~3%, tourism: ~3%
1981: 27%
2001: 30%
1999: 46%
2009: 48%
  1982: 57.3% 1990: 62.3%
Unemployment Rate 1991: 22,318
2001: 23,489
1981: 23%
2001: 16.5%
1999: 10%
2009: 19%
 2011: 23%  
Employment Profile   Self employed 1971: 31%
2001: 26%
1971: 66%
2001: 73% Contributing family
1971: 3%
2001: 1%
Quality of Life HDI   2001 HDI (Campania): 0.956      
Poverty line per capita   2007: €4227.96      
NGOs Active in the Area 1 None   9  
Professional Organizations   1  (Coldiretti)     Many dealing with agricultural production, methods of cultivation and treatment
Other formal and Informal Groups AGRUNION, PUC, EAS Messara Fondazione Alario; Associazione Cilenvallo; Gal Cilento Rigeneratio; Park communities; Mountain communities; Alento Water Consortium      
Administrative Structure State> region> municipality> community State> Regions> Provinces> Municipalities> Mountain communities   State> Region (Andalucia)> Province (ES615 Huelva)> 5 Municipalities County>
12 Towns>
186 Villages
Land ownership and Tenure   Ownership: 86%
Rental:2 %
Free use: 2 %
Mixed: 10 %
Ownership: 93%
Rental: 4 %
Other: 2%
1962: 75%
1989: 82%
1962: 13 %
1989: 16% Sharecropping 1962: 8%
1989: 0%
1962: 4%
1989: 2%
National, Regional and Local Policies in Effect Many Many Many Many Many
Important National and Regional Laws Many Many Many Many Many
Land use structure and change
Land Use Structure and Change Olives and vines
1991: 74.7%
Private grazing lands
1991: 15.8%
Forest or seminatural vegetation: ~50%
Agricultural land: ~ 50%
Dry agriculture; Eucalyptus; Unproductive; Mattoral   Sparse woods
1987: 4%
2002: 30%
1987: 30%
2002: 29%
1987: 25%
2002: 15%
1987: 22%
2002: 7.5%
Physical infrastructure
Housing types and capacity Old houses and dwellings, recent houses (with more than three storeys and no roofs) Occupied and unoccupied houses. Second classification of houses: built-up residential areas, hamlets and isolated houses      
Road Networks Moderate road network State run coastal road strada statale, the smaller strada provinciale SP430 and the strada statale 2 motorways
National roads
Regional roads
Low density road network Rapidly growing road network
Energy Networks Heraklion power station with an installed capacity of 192.8 MW Alento is poorly connected to power distribution networks, especially the regional gas pipe network      
Communication Networks Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE S.A.) Problems in access to information technologies      
Terraces Few Few      
Social infrastructure
Schools 40 kindergardens
33 primary schools
12 high schools
7 lyceums
Each township has one or more state nursery and elementary school. All townships have a middle school.
1 high school in Cilento.
5 high schools in Vallo della Lucania
Educational centers (JRB)
1999: 2780
2010: 3643
One educational center. Higher education children move for more than 25 km 1979: 555 primary schools
88 junior high schools
2005: 70 primary schools
16 junior high schools
Hospitals and other health services Health centers: 5
Regional clinics: 12
Infant nurseries: 13
Day nurseries: 4
2 Hospitals with 342 and 780 beds   Two hospitals,
Medical centers in villages
11 township clinics,
36 collective clinics,
180 village clinics,
92 individual clinics
Community Centers KAPI (Open Care Community Centers)        

The agricultural sector has suffered the most, with a consistent decline in employment in the last decades. Even though the decline in agriculture remains the most important issue, other economic sectors such as tourism, services, transportation, manufacturing, etc. have developed in all study sites in recent decades. The construction of the Three Gorges Dam in the China study site in the last decade has greatly affected the structure of agriculture and the socio-economic characteristics of the area.

The selected study sites face various problems of land and ecosystem degradation and desertification (LEDD). The most important environmental and socio-economic impacts of LEDD are summarized in Table 3. Soil erosion constitutes a major issue in all study sites causing loss of fertile soil, loss in organic matter content, loss in soil water storage capacity, loss in crop production and farmer’s income, infrastructure damages, etc. In addition, land desertification and biodiversity loss is a major issue especially for the study sites located in Mediterranean Europe. Aquifer depletion accompanied in many cases by water pollution or/and soil salinization is a major issue for the study sites of Canyoles River Basin river and Messara Valley.

Table 3. Important land and ecosystem degradation and desertification (LEDD) issues identified in the cropland study sites

LEDD issue Study site
    Alento Canyoles River Basin Western Andévalo Zhang Jiachong Messara Valley
Environmental impacts Loss of fertile soil + + + + +
Soil organic matter decline +   + + +
Soil compaction   +      
Soil sealing + +     +
Slope stability +        
Water pollution   + +   +
Loss in soil water storage capacity     + + +
Biodiversity loss + +   +  
Urbanization of rural areas + +      
Aquifer depletion   +     +
Land desertification + + +   +
Land abandonment   + +   +
Socio-economic impacts Loss in crop production +   + + +
Loss in farmers' income         +
People migration     + + +

The main drivers of land degradation and desertification in all study sites are: fires for expansion of agricultural land, reduction of agricultural area due to low land productivity or urban expansion, intensification of crop production and concentration in productive soils, low prices of agricultural products especially in olive oil, expansion of tourism especially in the coastal areas, EU and national subsidies, and climate variability. One of the most important drivers of agricultural reform in the Yangtze River Basins was the increase in water availability.

Several physical/technological and institutional types of responses have been identified at the various study sites (Table 4). The main physical/technological responses to LEDD are: land terracing and terrace maintenance, understory annual vegetation in olive groves, no or minimum tillage, contour farming, intercropping, mixed cultivation, crop rotation, unsustainable farming, expansion of agriculture in natural areas, fires in natural and agricultural areas, organic farming, traditional flood irrigation, monoculture of certain plantations, land abandonment, etc. The main institutional responses are: national legislation for environmental protection, National Action Plans for combating land desertification, National Park Management Plans, Watershed Management Plans, Rural Development Programmes, NATURA 2000 Network, cross-compliance, afforestation schemes, etc. The main research or educational responses to LEDD are: environmental awareness raising, local education seminars on land degradation, research projects funded by EU or national funds, etc.

Table 4. Important planned and unplanned responses to LEDD in the cropland study sites

Type of intervention Planned – direct – formal Unplanned – informal
Physical/technological Integrated land management of olive groves (Messara Valley)
Land terracing and terracing maintenance (Alento, Messara Valley, Zhang Jiachong)
Afforestation (Western Andévalo)
Contour farming (Zhang Jiachong)
Intercropping (Zhang Jiachong)
Grain for green (Zhang Jiachong)
Road network without water control (Alento, Canyoles River Basin)
No tillage or minimum tillage (Messara Valley, Canyoles River Basin, Zhang Jiachong)
Inducing plant cover (Messara Valley, Alento)
Weed control (Canyoles River Basin, Messara Valley)
Unsustainable cultivation of soils in hilly areas (Messara Valley, Canyoles River Basin, Western Andévalo)
Expansion of agriculture in natural areas (Messara Valley)
Expansion of irrigation (Alento, Messara Valley, Western Andévalo, Canyoles River Basin, Zhang Jiachong)
Fires in natural areas (Alento, Messara Valley)
Organic farming (Messara Valley, Alento, Canyoles River Basin, Western Andévalo)
Economic   Single Farm payment (Alento)
Support to agriculture diversification (Alento, Zhang Jiachong)
Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) for Cilento (Alento)
Social Forest workers to reduce risk of forest fires and maintenance of territorial infrastructure (Alento) Wide band communication support (Alento)
Land abandonment (Alento)
Institutional NAP for combating land desertification (Alento, Messara Valley, Western Andévalo, Canyoles River Basin)
Various legislations and constitutional articles for environmental protection (Alento, Messara Valley, Western Andévalo, Canyoles River Basin, Zhang Jiachong)
Educational/ communication Seminars on environmental protection (Messara Valley) Knowledge transfer among farmers (Messara Valley)
Research Research on land protection funded by National and EU funds (Alento, Messara Valley, Western Andévalo, Canyoles River Basin, Zhang Jiachong)
Environmental awareness (Alento)


More details ... full analysis of the fit of responses to LEDD in the cropland study sites 

Cross-references need to be checked and links re made.

Messara Valley, Crete
Alento, Italy

Zhang Jiachong, China
Canyoles River Basin, Spain
Western Andévalo, Spain

2014-11-28 10:49:12