Changes in land use and socio-ecological patterns: the case of tropical rainforests in West Africa

Ten million hectares of tropical forest have been destroyed in the course of 20th century and nearly 80% of the surface area of tropical rainforests has been assigned to food and cash crop agriculture. In the forest region of Litimé (south-west Togo), the rainforests also are a major economic resource. The aims of this study are thus to quantify the land use changes between 1986 and 2001, assess the accuracy of land uses from ecological inventories, and explain these changes with socio-economic events. By remote sensing, using SPOT satellite images from 1986 and 2001, we identified four classes of land use and quantified the evolution of their surface area. Sixty control points and ecological inventories have provided a basis for validating these classes, describing the plant species composition. In 15 years, the major class of land use, the cocoa plantations, have regressed in favour of inhabited zones and cultivated areas.The forest of Litimé has been reduced to small patches that have been cleared for the food crop agriculture and inhabited zones. This study shows that the social and economical knowledge are determinants in order to understand the temporal and spatial dynamics of the forests.

Keywords: Land use changes, Multi-functional landscapes, Socio-economic factors, Jaccard similarity index, Tropical rainforest.