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Africa Open D.E.A.L: Open Data for Environment, Agriculture and Land & Africa's Great Green Wall

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the African Union Commission (AUC) led a land-use data collection and analysis between 2018 and 2020. With the support of the Panafrican Agency of the Great Green Wall (GGW), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and 30 African countries, FAO and the AUC coordinated the data collection operation on a scale unseen before in agriculture, environment, and land use. The Africa Open D.E.A.L (Data for Environment, Agriculture and Land) initiative has made Africa the first continent to complete the collection of accurate, comprehensive, and harmonized digital land use and land-use change data. It provides a detailed snapshot of the continent, captured through more than 300 000 sampling points collected by 350 operators in two years.

Analysts were trained to use Collect Earth, an open-source tool developed by FAO with the support of Google. Over 100 parameters were collected on each sampling point of about 0.5 hectares, including tree counts, farmlands, wildfires, and existing infrastructure. Data were analyzed to highlight land-use change over the past 20 years and the potential for restoration at the national level for every country. The very high-resolution imagery allowed analysts to assess places with difficult field accessibility.

The data survey has revealed 7 billion previously unrecorded trees outside forests for the first time, among other findings of the first consistent land use representation of the continent, and discloses more forests and more arable lands than were previously detected. This fact-based information finds that the area of the continental Great Green Wall initiative has 393 million hectares of land with restoration potential and opportunities and that 350 million hectares of cropland are cultivated in Africa, more than double that of the European Union.

The survey exposes huge opportunities for the management of the environment, agriculture, and land use in Africa, and increases countries’ ability to track changes and conduct analyses for informed sustainable production, restoration interventions, and climate action. Africa Open DEAL data and information are embedded within FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Initiative geospatial platform and are accessible to anyone through EarthMap.org.

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