Geoinformation, monitoring and assessment Environment

Updated October 1998

Land cover and land use

A New Concept for a Land Cover Classification System

by Antonio Di Gregorio (GCP/RAF/287/ITA Africover East Africa Project, P.O. Box 30470, Nairobi, Kenya ) and Louisa J.M. Jansen (FAO Land and Water Development Division, Viale delle Termi di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy). From Earth Observation and Environmental Information Conference (EOEI'97), 13-16 October 1997, Alexandria, Egypt


Despite the demand for environment and natural resources information, many existing maps and digital databases do not meet multi-user requirements. One of the main causes, though underestimated, is the type of classification or legend used to describe basic information such as land cover. Classifications and legends are generally not comparable with one another and, very often, are single project-oriented or take a narrow sectoral approach. Despite the fact that there are many classification systems existent throughout the world, there is no single internationally accepted land cover classification system.

FAO has developed a new universally applicable Land Cover Classification System, within the framework of the Africover Program, to meet specific user-requirements and created for mapping exercises, independent of the scale or means used to map.

The classification uses a set of independent diagnostic criteria that allow correlation with existing classifications and legends so this system could serve as a reference base. The classification is in two phases:

The methodology is comprehensive in the sense that any identified land cover anywhere in the world can be readily accommodated. Because of the complexity of the classification and the need for standardization, a software program has been developed, to assist the interpretation process and facilitate consistent applications.

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