A chief inspects a satellite map showing local geographic features | SERVIR Global

SERVIR Satellite Data Program Develops Higher Resolutions Land Cover Maps for Nine African Countries

By SERVIR Global

Since its inception in 2005 the SERVIR partnership between USAID and NASA has helped countries monitor environmental change and forecast extreme storms, floods, droughts, fires, red tides.

The program reaches more than 30 countries by partnering with regional technical institutions in Eastern and Southern Africa, the Hindu-Kush Himalaya region and the Mekong Delta.  

In 2013, the SERVIR hub in Eastern and Southern Africa – the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) based in Kenya –developed higher-resolution land cover maps for nine countries.

Working with ministries in Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, Ethiopia, Mauritius and Uganda, RCMRD combined satellite imagery with other geospatial and historical data and also updated land classifications (e.g., forest, grassland, wetland) to better align with current national and international needs.

The result: higher resolution maps for these countries are now available online, on the RCMRD web page.

Accurately mapping forest and land cover is an enormous challenge for most countries. Yet accurate maps are crucial to understanding core development challenges, including agricultural trends, use of forests, and other issues.

For RCMRD’s partner countries in Africa, accurate maps are also crucial for developing the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) inventories they need to submit to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Land use change contributes about 24 percent of global carbon pollution, and for many developing countries, it is the largest source of GHGs. Accurate estimates of GHGs resulting from land use change are key inputs to national and global efforts on climate change.

"It’s challenging for developing countries to estimate greenhouse emissions from land use change without accurate land cover maps over time,” said Jenny Frankel-Reed, USAID’s SERVIR program lead.

The RCMRD hub in Eastern and Southern Africa organized regional workshops to define land cover classifications that would harmonize with international standards. RCMRD also trained local analysts to use the mapping software and conduct their own analyses for future GHG reporting.   

"I am very pleased that we got to assess my country," said Elizabeth Mrema, an official with Tanzania’s Ministry of Lands. "I know now what needs to be fixed and how to do it.”

The higher-resolution maps integrate satellite data from 1990, 2000 and 2010 with agricultural censuses, land-use surveys and existing forest maps. A web-based visualization tool was developed to allow analysts to input timeframes and, with a mouse click, see how land cover has changed.

The nine national maps were also combined so analysts can examine the region as a whole. And the nine governments receive full statistics for each land cover classification, showing how land cover has changed over time.         

To see the full range of SERVIR services, visit the SERVIR Global Product Catalogue, with more than 60 applications, projects, and tools, searchable by region, country, theme or satellite source.

Strategic Objective
Emissions, Land Use, Monitoring and Evaluation, Sustainable Landscapes


A joint development initiative of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), SERVIR works in partnership with leading regional organizations world-wide to help developing countries use information provided by Earth observing satellites and geospatial technologies for managing climate risks and land use. We empower decision-makers with tools, products, and services to act locally on climate-sensitive issues such as disasters, agriculture, water, and ecosystems and land use.

SERVIR is improving awareness, increasing access to information, and supporting analysis to help people in West Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa, Hindu Kush-Himalaya, the Lower Mekong, South America and Mesoamerica manage challenges in the areas of food security, water resources, land use change, and natural disasters. With activities in more than 45 countries and counting, SERVIR has already developed over 70 custom tools, collaborated with over 250 institutions, and trained more than 3000 individuals, improving the capacity to develop local solutions.

More on the Blog

To address these challenges, USAID partnered with the Sustainable Ocean Fund (SOF), to make pioneering impact investments into marine and coastal projects and enterprises. The $132 million Fund invests in projects across Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia and the Pacific that aim to build resilience in coastal ecosystems and create sustainable economic growth and livelihoods in the blue economy.
The agriculture sector across the globe not only feeds the world’s population but it also provides nearly 27 percent of worldwide employment. Yet the sector faces significant sustainability challenges: it is estimated to contribute more than one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions through a combination of agricultural activities and land use changes, and it consumes, on average, 70 percent of the world’s freshwater resources.
At first glance, USAID and NASA seem like an unlikely pair. NASA’s satellites watch the world from above; USAID helps farmers around the world grow crops from the ground up. But through a 15-year partnership, we’re helping solve one of the greatest threats to Earth — the climate crisis — and simultaneously strengthening resilience against poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and lack of access to safe water and sanitation.