Africa becomes first continent to complete collection of digital land use data

There are more forests and arable lands in Africa than previously thought, new data shows

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Friday 16 July 2021
Photo: World Bank
Photo: World Bank Photo: World Bank

Africa has become the first continent in the world to complete the collection of accurate, comprehensive and harmonised digital land use and land use change data under the Africa Open DEAL initiative. DEAL stands for Data for the Environment, Agriculture and Land Initiative.

The data collection and analysis initiative is led by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the African Union Commission (AUC).

“Africa Open DEAL initiative has made Africa the first continent to complete the collection of accurate, comprehensive and harmonised digital land use and land use change data,” FAO and the AUC said at virtual launch of the initiative July 13, 2021.

This open data initiative that covered the period between 2018 and 2020, disclosed more forests and arable lands than were previously detected.

7 billion more trees

There are around seven billion trees outside forests in Africa, the continent-wide survey revealed. It also disclosed more arable lands in Africa than before.

Collect Earth, a free and open source software developed by FAO, was used to collect data through Google Earth.  It  is part of the set of tools called Open Foris and was developed in 2017 in collaboration with Google Earth, Bing Maps and Google Earth Engine.

The survey covered 100 parameters on each sampling point of about 0.5 hectares and included tree counts, farmlands, wildfires and existing infrastructure.

The data was analysed to highlight land use change over the past 20 years and the potential for restoration at the national level for every country in the African continent.

“This initiative showed that science and innovation could provide real solutions and that collaboration and pooling experience led to the best results,” Qu Dongyu, FAO director-general, said in his statement.

The initiative also revealed that 350 million hectares of cropland are cultivated in Africa. This is an increase by 25 per cent over the crop land in the continent. In 2018, 279 million hectares of crop land was cultivated in the continent, FAO estimates show.

Abebe Haile-Gabriel, FAO’s assistant director-general and regional representative for Africa, said in his statement that the information received from the Africa Open Deal could help in the fight against hunger in the continent.

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