One way to address the demand for extension workers in some parts of Africa is to create web based information systems that help farmers to become independent. A new vegetation map developed by the World Agroforestry Centre is on the way to becoming such an information system. In the short term, the map will be a web based tool for enabling efficient tree species selection within the East Africa region. In the future, the map could act as an all-encompassing tool for helping farmers educate themselves on species selection and on the benefits of adopting agroforestry innovations.
The new map was created as a result of the Vegetation and Climate change in Eastern Africa (VECEA) project. The VECEA map which covers seven countries in the East Africa region, offers greater accuracy for tree species selection. Lead scientist Roeland Kindt explains that the VECEA map has the potential to also act as a platform, upon which many other data sets from other Global Research Projects (GRPs) can be overlaid, to encourage smallholder’s use of trees within agricultural landscapes. Moreover, it also provides the possibility of studying how tree species distribution may change as climate changes.
The original web based Useful Tree Species for Africa tool was developed in 2011 from Frank White’s 1983 publication called Vegetation Map of Africa. It was created at a scale of 1:5,000,000. Its lower resolution meant less reliability when it came to choosing tree species from various locations across Africa.
Like its predecessor, the higher resolution VECEA map uses vegetation distribution to infer tree species distribution. The reason why both maps use vegetation distribution is because to date, there are few point location data for tree species. Scientists discovered that vegetation distribution can be correlated with tree distribution. “Both vegetation and species distribution can be explained by similar variables such as biotic, abiotic etc.” says Roeland. “Out of the 985 tree species we collected, we were only able to use the ones with 30 or more point location data” he added. The trees with 30 or more point location data numbered no more than 21% meaning that by themselves, tree species were not enough to be used for generating the tree species distribution map.
The vegetation distribution method has been found by scientists to be very effective especially where certain tree species are known to grow within specific vegetation types. Created by the Centre’s Global Research Project 1 (GRP1), the VECEA project aim was to create an interactive map of tree species and their distribution within tropical and subtropical areas. In the future, such a map will have all the information a famer needs in order to plant the right tree at the right time and at the right place.
There are many factors that play a role in the effort to show farmers the importance of adopting agroforestry tree technologies. These factors include market access, payment for ecosystem services and farm productivity. The Centre’s six global research projects have extended data on the many of these factors. It is for reasons such as this that Roeland and his team envisage that in the future, all these data can be overlaid on a more robust map similar to the VECEA one. Such a map will act as a one stop shop for extension workers and farmers. It will act as a quick efficient and effective way of recommending the types of tree species to include within agricultural landscapes.
Currently, The VECEA map is accurate to landscape level and the ongoing process requires more point location data of tree species. There are also plans to use the map to model how tree distribution may change as climate changes. The project is definitely on the right track but as Roeland Kindt puts it “it will take time before the ideal of an encompassing map is reached.”
Find out more about the Useful Tree Species for Africa tool.