Title: Is Africa losing its natural vegetation? - Monitoring trajectories of land cover change by means of Landsat imagery
Authors: BRINK AndreasEVA HughBODART Catherine
Publisher: CRC Press, Taylor and Francis Group
Publication Year: 2012
JRC N°: JRC77603
ISBN: 9781420070743
URI: http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC77603
DOI: 10.1201/b11964-28
Type: Articles in periodicals and books
Abstract: Sub-Saharan Africa represent’s nearly 20% of the Earth’ surface. The landscapes include many biologically rich and unique eco-regions, such as the tropical forests, montane forests, and wood- and grass savannahs. The region is also home to 13% of the world’s population and with the highest birth-rate of any continent – 2.4 percent compared to a world average of 1.3 percent – the population is projected to grow to two billion by 2050. Currently 60 percent of the population live in rural areas and 55 percent of the economic active population is dependent on agriculture, but annual urban growth rates at nearly 4 percent are the most rapid in the world and nearly twice the global average (FAOSTAT, 2006). Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and GDP per capita in the world (ERS/USDA, 2008). Economies are mainly based on primary products or natural resources. The exploitation of these are often related to loss and degradation of forests and woodlands, loss of animal and plant species, land degradation, increasing water shortages and declining water quality. The pressure and degradation of sub-Saharan Africa’s environment is mainly the result of the high population growth that has exceeded the capacity of natural resources to meet expanding human needs with the current technology. Population increase and economic growth is associated to increased utilization of fossil fuel energy, – mostly in the form of firewood and charcoal - which accounts for over 75% of final energy consumption in sub-Saharan nations (EIA, 1999). The conversion of natural vegetation to agriculture associated with poor land management practices causes land degradation and erosion processes. It is estimated that about 25 percent of the land is subject to water erosion and 22 percent to wind erosion and desertification affects over 45 percent of the land area of which 55 percent at high to very high risk (UNEP, 1992). The implications of land cover changes on natural vegetation, biodiversity, socio-economic stability and food security may have a long-term impact on natural resources such as freshwater- and forest resources, sustainable food production, the climate and last but not least human welfare (Foley et al. 2005). Hence assessing the dynamics of land-cover and land-use changes and understanding its underlying causes has been recognized as one of the key research domains in regional and global environmental change research. The following study aims to use an independent method to assess and quantify main land cover changes in sub-Saharan Africa over a 25 year period (from 1975 to 2000) by using the capabilities of Earth observing satellites. Four broad land cover classes - forests, natural non-forest vegetation, agriculture and barren areas – are analyzed and the main underlying driving forces of land cover changes are discussed.
JRC Directorate:Sustainable Resources

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