Land change studies in Africa

Photo: Petri Pellikka

This research group studies land use and land cover changes taking place in sub-Saharan Africa due to agricultural expansion. More croplands are cleared for food security on the cost of natural vegetation. The research group combining geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing and sustainability science focuses on monitoring and analyzing the land change. Research combines geospatial land cover data with measurements of microclimate, gas exchange, water, soil, vegetation biomass and characteristics, and socio-economic surveys. The objective is to study in an integrative way the consequences of land change to climate, water resources, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, food security and livelihoods of people. Moreover, the strategies to adapt to land change and climate change are developed.

Taita Taveta County in Kenya is the key research area, but studies are conducted both in East and West Africa. Group collaborates with Kenyan and international research organizations in Kenya, while the main partners in Europe are York University and Lund University. Within University of Helsinki, the main collaboration partners are Faculty of Biosciences and Environment, Faculty of Medicine, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, and Finnish Museum of Natural History. Taita Research Station of the University of Helsinki is a central research infrastructure.

The current and past projects related to land change studies and geoinformatics research and teaching in Africa include:

  • AFERIA - Adaptation for food security and ecosystem resilience in Africa - integrating results, building capacity and implementing adaptation strategies. Follow-up of CHIESA project. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, 2016-2017.
  • TAITAFOREST - Remote sensing of water harvesting and carbon sequestration by forests in the Taita Hills, Kenya. Finnish Culture Foundation, 2016-2017.
  • TAITANYIKA – Impact of land cover changes in integrated land cover-climate-ecosystem processes in African savanna landscapes in the past and present. 2015 -
  • GIERI - Strengthening geoinformatics teaching and research capacity in Eritrea higher education institutions. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, 2015-2017.
  • GIMMEC Research Community - Geoinformatics for monitoring and modeling of environmental change. University of Helsinki, 2013-2016.
  • BIODEV – Building biocarbon and rural development in West Africa. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, 2012-2016.
  • TAITAWATER - Integrated land cover-climate-ecosystem process study for water management in East African highlands. Academy of Finland, 2013-2016.
  • CHIESA - Climate change impacts on ecosystem services and food security in Eastern Africa - increasing knowledge, building capacity and developing adaptation strategies. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, 2011-2015. 
  • TAITASCAPE - Forest structure, landscape fragmentation and population dynamics – a geoinformation approach. Academy of Finland, 2007-2008.
  • TAITATOO - Geoinformatics in environmental conservation and community based natural resource management in the Taita Hills, Kenya. Academy of Finland, 2006-2009.
  • TAITA - Development of land use change methodology in East African highlands applying geographic information systems, Academy of Finland, 2003-2005.

More information: Petri Pellikka, Professor in Geoinformatics

Taita Research Station of the University of Helsinki in Kenya