Geoinformation, monitoring and assessment Environment

Updated October 1998

Land cover and land use

Land Cover Classification System (LCCS)

When to use LCCS

The Land Cover Classification System software program can be used to:

What is LCCS?

The Land Cover Classification System (LCCS) is the result of the initiative by the Africover Programme of the Environment and Natural Resources Service (SDRN) to develop an approach for concept, definition and classification of land cover. The classification concepts were developed, discussed and approved by the Africover Working Group on Classification and Legend with support from French trust fund (Di Gregorio & Jansen, 1996; FAO, 1997). This Working Group gave FAO the mandate to fully develop the proposed classification. The first full operational version of the classification and its software program has been developed for implementation by the Italian trust fund GCP/RAF/287/ITA Africover-East Africa Project, based in Nairobi, in collaboration with the Soil Resources, Management and Conservation Service (AGLS).

The LCCS software program contains four different Modules (Figure 1.). These are:

The Land Cover Classification is a comprehensive standardised a-priori classification system, designed to meet the needs of a variety of users and designed for mapping exercises, but independent of scale or means used. The proposed classification can be used as a reference system because the diagnostic criteria allow correlation with existing classifications and/or legends.

Figure. Overview of LCCS software program functionalities

Land Cover Classes are defined by the combination of a set of independent diagnostic criteria, the so-called classifiers, which are hierarchically arranged to assure a high degree of geographical accuracy. Because of the heterogeneity of land cover, the same set of classifiers can not be used to define all land cover types. The hierarchical arrangement of classifiers may differ from one land cover type to an other. Therefore, the classification is designed according to two main phases:

  1. a dichotomous phase where eight major land cover types are distinguished; and
  2. a modular-hierarchical phase where the set of classifiers and their hierarchical arrangement are tailored to the major land cover type.

This allows the use of the most appropriate classifiers and reduces the total number of impractical combinations of classifiers. The classification system is set up in a flexible way which allows the user to derive a mutually exclusive Land Cover Class at any level of the system.

Further definition of the Land Cover Class can be achieved by adding attributes. Two types of attributes, which form separate levels in the classification, are distinguished:

Because of the complexity of the classification and the need for standardisation, a software program, of which the beta version has been developed, will assist the interpretation process. This software program facilitates not only the standardization of the interpretation process but also contributes to its homogeneity. Despite the huge number of classes one can generate, an interpreter is dealing only with one single classifier at the time and each class is built up by stepwise selection of each classifier. So one does not need to scroll inside a big list of class names to select the appropriate one, but one is simply aggregating a number of classifiers to derive the class. This will assist in reducing heterogeneity between interpreters and with interpretations over time.

Application examples

Land cover classification and mapping by the operational GCP/RAF/287/ITA Africover-East Africa Project in 12 countries in Eastern Africa (Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo). The resulting land cover database will provide up-to-date harmonised information which can be used in environmental applications.

Land cover/land use pilot study in Kenya carried out by the Kenya Soil Survey. Identification of the land cover according to the LCCS methodology and derivation of land use from the land cover units together with land use field observations and ancillary data.

Testing of the beta version of LCCS software program by members of the LANES network on the development of a framework for a multi-purpose land cover land use information system.


The software program and accompanying manual will become available as a bulletin accompanied by a CD-ROM from mid-1998 onwards. The contact address is:

Chief, Environment and Natural Resources Service (SDRN)
Research, Extension and Training Division
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
00100 Rome, Italy

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