Climate changes and rapid population growth cause increasing pressure on the East African highlands. The results of the pressure are manifold: intensified agriculture, decreasing amount of forestland, loss of biodiversity, intensified land degradation and soil erosion. These consequences introduce high demands on land use and land use planning in these areas.

Remote sensing data and techniques and geographic information systems (GIS) provide efficient real-time methods for analysis of land use issues and tools for land use planning and modelling. Understanding the driving forces of land use development in the past, managing the current situation with modern GIS tools and modelling the future we are able to develop plans for multiple use of natural resources and nature conservation.

Taita Hills located in southeastern Kenya is a high-risk area due to rapid population growth and land use changes. Being part of the Eastern Arc it is very valuable and rich in biodiversity and has many endemic mammal, bird and butterfly species.
The hills were once forested with cloud forest, but nowadays only few larger patches of indigenous sacred forests are left. Due to intensive agriculture and the great relative height differences of the hills and, the hills are subject to land degradation and accelerated soil erosion. In Taita Hills, several processes are affecting the sustainable use of natural resources.

Satellite remote sensing data is usually the most accurate and up-to-date “map” available of developing countries. Especially with the fast growing towns and cities in the developing countries, it is practically the only method which can follow up the growth.

When the satellite image is rectified to a coordinate system, a satellite map can be produced – but a whole lot of other techniques, processes and models can be used for different planning and analyse purposes. Together with aerial photography, satellite remote sensing data forms the base for land use mapping and planning. With modern geographic information systems, flexible geographic databases can be created for land use issues.

The overall objectives of the project are to develop a cost-effective and practical land use change detection methodology and to create a geographic database of the land use in the area. The aim of the multidisciplinary project is divided in four main sub-objectives: studies in landuse change, urban growth, spatiotemporal changes in land degradation, and development of the management systems of naturally protected forests. Methodological development is an essential part of the project. Existing and new change detection methods for remotely sensed data will be tested in mountainous and urban areas. Since the past and the present are keys to the future, models and scenarios will be generated for the future development by studying land use changes.

Expected results of the project are new methods for land use change detection, a geographic land use database over Taita Hills, an analysis of the soil erosion risk in the area and models, and scenarios of the landscape development. The land change study will give us better understanding of land use development in the past, tools for managing the current situation with modern GIS environment, enabling a modelling of the future. The outcomes of the project will enable developing plans for multiple uses of natural resources and indigenous conservation in the area.

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