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Comparison of global and regional land cover maps with statistical information for the agricultural domain in Africa

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Achieving food security in particular in Africa continues to pose a major challenge to humankind. It is clear that the future agricultural potential of Africa plays a critical role in meeting this challenge. Although crop yield can be estimated with a degree of reliability using a limited sample of ground observations, the exact crop acreage and the spatial distribution are rarely available. Even though remote sensing offers the ability to produce a rapid and up-to-date land use and land cover database for agricultural monitoring, there are only a few countries in Africa where higher resolution satellite data such as Landsat have been used for land cover map production at the national level. However a number of global products have been produced which contain information on cropland extent. This paper will outline a comparison of four sources of land cover data to determine which product is the most suitable for agricultural monitoring and for the subsequent development of a crop mask. The land cover products used are the Global Land Cover Map (GLC-2000), the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) land cover product (MOD12V1), the SAGE (Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment) and the AFRICOVER dataset from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Both the GLC-2000 and MODIS land cover products are at a resolution of 1 km2 while AFRICOVER, based on visual interpretation of 30-m resolution Landsat images, is available at a much finer resolution. The four land cover products are first aggregated to the same resolution so that they can be compared. The legend categories of the four land cover products in this study are reconciled using the method developed in Fritz and See [Fritz, S. and See, L., 2005, Comparison of land cover maps using fuzzy agreement. International Journal of Geographic Information Science, 19, pp. 787-807.] and See and Fritz [See, L.M. and Fritz, S., 2005, A user-defined fuzzy logic approach to comparing global land cover products. In 14th European Colloquium on Theoretical and Quantitative Geography, 9-12 September 2005, Lisbon, Portugal.] that allows overlap between legend definitions to be taken into account. Once the legend definitions between the different land cover products are reconciled, the maps are then compared with national and sub-national statistics. Analysis is undertaken at both continental and national scales as well as sub-national for Sudan and Eritrea. The study generally concludes that MODIS has the tendency to underestimate cropland cover when compared with FAO statistics or AFRICOVER data, whereas GLC-2000 tends to overestimate cropland cover in those countries that are located at the northern transition zone of subtropical shrubland and semi-desert areas. In this area MODIS and SAGE show a relatively similar cropland distribution. Even though the SAGE database has been calibrated with national statistics, it does not perform better than the other two datasets overall, and has highlighted the fact that the SAGE data show regional weaknesses and should be replaced in certain regions by more recent datasets such as GLC-2000 and MODIS, or ideally by a hybrid product that combines the best of the three products, depending upon the region and country.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Laxenburg, Austria 2: School of Geography, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK 3: Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, Ispra (VA), Italy

Publication date: 2010-03-01

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