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Uganda: FAO mapping technologies help fill gaps in forest data

Innovation permits efficient processing of satellite data, at very low cost

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napoletano
New FAO technologies enable foresters to process satellite images and generate forest maps at low cost.

12 August 2013, Rome - FAO recently introduced new mapping technologies in Uganda that will help the country generate better, more useful forestry statistics and land cover maps. 

Forests and forest products are important to the livelihoods of many communities in Uganda.  The new tools and information will help the government monitor national forest resources and make informed decisions regarding long-term forestry and investment policies, as well as avoid unintended forest conversion and the degradation of the productive and protective functions of forests.  

Software costs a challenge

In the past, the management of Uganda's forestry sector has often been hampered by a lack of reliable data.  While new advances in remote sensing and free access to satellite data can now facilitate the production of forest area data, users like the National Forest Authority of Uganda (NFA) have had limited capacity to benefit from such developments - software licenses alone can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

FAO's innovations, on the other hand, do not require any large financial investments to implement.

New integrated approach to data analysis

To update Uganda's land cover map, FAO and NFA worked together to classify recent imagery and produce statistics during a week-long training course in satellite image processing.  The NFA team learned to use a suite of open-source image processing tools to undertake the work.

"The training solved our biggest problem and gave us momentum that we started land cover mapping for the whole country; something we have wanted to do for some time," said John Diisi, the Coordinator of Geographic Information System/Mapping at the NFA.

"The free provision of high-quality satellite data, combined with open-source image processing, geographic information systems and other statistical tools offers an amazing amount of utility and flexibility," said FAO remote sensing specialist Erik Lindquist. "Now, we can easily introduce advanced image processing techniques and generate results efficiently with no software costs to the organizations we work with.  That is important given the resource constraints faced by national forestry agencies around the world."

Small investment yields big results 

"This effort shows that finding flexible ways to use limited resources in the right time and place can produce substantial benefits.  The initial direct investment was around $20,000 provided by the Government of Finland, but it unlocked Ugandan potential that is worth many times that amount," noted Kenneth MacDicken, a Senior Forestry Officer  at FAO.

The new land cover map and statistics will help Uganda improve its forest monitoring capabilities, and Uganda's newly generated figures will also be included in the upcoming FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 report.