Norcross, Georgia, USA, and Nairobi, Kenya — Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging is donating software to The Green Belt Movement (GBM) to support tree planting activities and community development in Africa.
Founded by the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and this year’s ESRI User Conference keynote speaker Wangari Maathai, GBM is a nonprofit organization working to protect and restore Kenya’s forests.
“The United Nations estimates that to provide critical ecosystem services, which are dependent on healthy forests, that 10% of Kenya’s land should be forested,” explained Dr. Chris Tuite, director of GBM’s Washington, DC office. Forest cover affects availability of rain and underground water, soil fertility, and clean air, while preventing soil erosion. Acting as water catchments, Kenya’s forests also provide more than 50% of the electrical power generation capacity of the country through hydropower. During the past 100 years, Kenya’s forest cover has declined from about 30% to 2%. “To get from 2% back to 10% is about 5 million hectares or 5 billion trees,” noted Tuite.
GBM works with local communities throughout Kenya to protect and restore forestlands and has over 6,000 groups, led mainly by women, which develop tree nurseries and plant trees. The highest priority areas are five upland and mountain forest areas, which together provide most of the water for the country and are important for their biodiversity. GBM also works with farmers and institutions, such as schools, to promote the planting of trees on both communal and private land.
To make the most of available funds and manpower, GBM is equipping a new laboratory in Kenya with GPSs, high-end workstations and a server running ArcGIS, donated by ESRI. For its part, Leica Geosystems is donating ERDAS IMAGINE PROFESSIONAL®, the highest tier of the ERDAS IMAGINE suite, and two of its ERDAS IMAGINE extension products—IMAGINE DeltaCue and IMAGINE AutoSync™.
Two laboratory staff members will receive and analyze data from more than 100 extension officers working in the field monitoring GBM’s projects. IMAGINE AutoSync will be used to take two (or more) images of potentially dissimilar type captured by the extension officers and automatically generate thousands of tie points between the images, georeferencing or orthorectifying the images together with high accuracy. IMAGINE DeltaCue will be used to compare newly collected data with previous data to monitor change and identify high-priority tree planting areas, said Peter Ndunda, a GBM GIS specialist.
“Leica Geosystems’ software adds a whole new layer of analytical sophistication to our capabilities,” explained Tuite. “It automates the process of change detection, which is critical for understanding what’s happening with Kenya’s forests and forests across Africa. It’s also critical to us as we plant the areas to be able to monitor the growth of the trees and the change in forest cover over time,” he added.
According to Tuite, the laboratory is key to understanding Kenya’s national picture in terms of watershed, people, geology and ecology—each of which impacts areas chosen for planting, what kind of trees will grow and when they should be planted. “The economic impact of Kenya’s forest on the country is huge,” said Tuite. “This software helps us plan and think and look and monitor at a scale for achieving something really meaningful for Kenya over the next 50 years.”
He noted that the lab would benefit from additional GPS units for equipping additional field collection teams and to help visitors and volunteers find the right locations during replanting projects.
“We are pleased to be part of such an important initiative with the potential to aid Kenya and other African countries facing consequences from similar deforestation,” noted Bob Morris, President and CEO of Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging. “With Professor Wangari Maathai speaking to the geospatial community this week, the word will spread on how we can all help to make a difference through this project,” he said.
“The Green Belt Movement makes a positive impact by planting tens of millions of trees throughout Kenya, empowering people to improve their communities,” added Jack Dangermond, ESRI President. “Professor Wangari Maathai has had a profound impact on the environment and on people’s lives through her work as an environmentalist, civil society and women’s rights activist, parliamentarian, and author.”
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