As the threat of food shortages and hunger loom over families in many areas in Africa, there is need to increase the productivity of Africa’s agricultural systems to lessen over-reliance on food relief. Agricultural growth is more important for Africa than for any other continent since most of its poor population depend on farming. According to the Food Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 70 percent of people in Africa and roughly 80 percent of the continent's poor live in rural areas. These people depend mainly on agriculture for their livelihoods, and increasingly are unable to meet their basic food needs as population pressure on land grows, and land and water resources become scarce or degrade and agricultural productivity deteriorates.
Agricultural production must increase significantly to meet the needs of the rapidly growing population by either increasing crop yields in areas where there is farming , changing the crops to suit the changing climate or changing the use of the land to more suitable activities in order to solve the problem of food shortages. The largest benefits will occur in lands which are underutilized but which have the potential for crop production or which currently have low crop yields. FAO estimates show that between 1995/7 and 2030 about 75 percent of the projected growth in crop production in Sub-Saharan Africa will come from intensification in the form of yield increases (62 percent) and higher cropping intensities (13 percent), with the remaining 25 percent coming from arable land expansion.
Knowledge on the productivity and the ability of the land to recover from human activities and degradation (resilience) can enable farmers and other agricultural stakeholders to determine the best land use and land management strategies to implement and which crops to plant to increase crop yields. Rangeland managers can also use the results from the LandPKS and the RHM (Rangeland Health Monitoring) tool to determine areas which are best suited for restoration purposes, site identification, vegetation health monitoring, site identification and tracking of rehabilitation projects.
The Land Potential Knowledge System (LandPKS) is innovative land knowledge systems for improved land management project which is hosted under Servir at the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) and funded by the US Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Services (USDA-ARS) and USAID.
The LandPKS team has developed a cloud-based, land-potential knowledge system powered by geospatial datasets that allows the potential of land to be defined explicitly and dynamically for unique and constantly changing soil and climate conditions. The project has developed innovative mobile data collection and analysis methods and tools to support local land use planning and to optimize design and implementation of food security, land restoration, climate change adaptation and biodiversity conservation programs. Land potential assessments will be updated based on new evidence regarding the success or failure of new management systems on different soils. The knowledge engine, together with mobile phones and cloud computing technologies, will also facilitate more rapid and complete integration and dissemination of local and scientific knowledge about sustainable land management.
What is land potential
Land potential can be understood as the capacity of the land to support ecosystem services required to meet the needs of people without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs or the capacity of land to support more specific land use objectives. An understanding of land's potential and its ability to recover is an important aspect that allows determination of areas where land is not meeting its productive potential (for example low crop yields or fodder), where unrealistic expectations by land owners are driving unsustainable development investments which lead to further land degradation and where proposed plans to intensify land use may be detrimental and are likely to lead to irreversible degradation. LandPKS solves these problems by allowing farmers, development organizations, extension workers and national governments to share, access and apply the best available knowledge and information at field, regional, and national scales while increasing accessibility to knowledge and information on land.
How does LandPKS work?
To evaluate land potential, users will measure soil depth (up to 120 cm) and provide a simple description of surface and subsurface texture, land cover and use, and observations of slope, slope shape and general soil conditions. A geo-tagged photograph of the excavated soil combined with an internal calibration reference will be used to determine soil color, while an oblique photograph will be used to confirm the land cover and use descriptions. The photographs and documentation will also serve as benchmarks for future monitoring. Users will have the opportunity to provide additional information through a tiered, iterative series of questions based on both their initial inputs and additional information (e.g. temperature, precipitation and elevation) which can be accessed using the GPS location provided by the mobile phone.
Integration with additional information on local crops and management system, information will be used to provide a set of site-specific management options, with an indication of potential production, degradation resistance and resilience across a range of additional inputs. Future developments will allow addition of other modules and allow incorporation of local working practices from farmers while allowing for global interconnectivity of farmers in similar climatic conditions to enable them share working land use and management practices. Incorporation of local knowledge in the knowledge engine can also promote better decision making and formulation of policies that are actually effective at the ground-level.
LandPKS on Android smartphones
LandPKS is being implemented in pilot sites in northern Kenya and northern Namibia with further implementation to be done in RCMRD member states after completion of the pilot phase. This week, one of our researchers David Kimiti together with LandPKS Global coordinator Dr. Adam Beh, held training for a group of NRT (Northern Rangeland Trust Conservancies) grazing coordinators on the use of LandPKS and RHM android tools for site identification and tracking of rehabilitation projects. Initial outputs for the pilot version of LandPKS will provide the user with maps that displays all plot assessments submitted by the user, chart displaying relative production indices based on user and global inputs and analytical modeling and charts displaying relative degradation resistance indices based on user and global inputs and analytical modeling.
A basic version of LandPKS Android tool will be released in February 2015 to serve as a site characterization tool for use by land managers in north-central Kenya and northeastern Namibia. Design modifications are ongoing, and are implemented based on user feedback from field crews. The LandPKS Android application offers a simple user interface, graphical displays, and a logical work progression to allow individual users with no formal soil science training to assess soil characteristics at the point level while embedded tutorials will guide the user through soil texture evaluations, land cover assessments, and photographing plot features. Users' inputs will then be uploaded to the cloud, integrated with global climate and soils databases, and run through predictive models to provide relative estimates of potential productivity and degradation risk. Graphical displays are delivered to the user's phone and formatted spreadsheets are delivered to user email addresses to allow for more detailed analysis. Uploaded data will also be available for open use via LandPotential website.