According to some researchers, using high-resolution satellite images to create land use plans could lead to economic development without depletion of natural resources in rural Tanzania. According to a World Bank report, competing demands for many of Tanzania’s natural resources such as land, forests and water are causing their degradation, and thus limiting their ability to continue providing goods and services.

For instance, the report shows that the increasing demand for water beyond available supply, poor land use that reduces agricultural productivity and bad watershed management practices by the people are some of the drivers of forests and watercourses degradation.

“Land can be allocated for investments that attract potential business investors.” Salla Eilola, University of Turku

Less than 15 per cent of 15,000 villages in Tanzania’s countryside have a land use plan, making the need to develop cost-effective methods for land use planning necessary, says Salla Eilola, lead author of the study published in the October issue of Landscape and Urban Planning.

The high-resolution satellite images, the researchers say, enables informed decision-making on current land use, various natural resources location in the village as well as future land use allocations such as settlement expansion areas or sites for investors.

The researchers from the University of Turku in Finland and Tanzanian experts developed a geospatial mapping method based on high-resolution satellite images from 2014 to 2018. The high-resolution satellite image printouts were used to discuss future land use allocation.

“Land can be allocated for investments that attract potential business investors,” explains Eilola. “And investors will have better guarantee that the available land is not disputed.”

Eilola, who is a doctoral student at the Department of Geography and Geology, University of Turku, tells SciDev.Net that people can view internet map services such as Google maps and provide rather accurate location information over the natural resources and physical assets in the villages.

“This land use planning process leads to a land use map and land use regulations that guide land use in a village for the next ten years at a time,” Eilola tells SciDev.Net.

According to Niina Käyhkö, a co-author of the study and an associate Professor in Geospatial Research at the University of Turku, the Tanzanian village landscapes [offer] multiple benefits such as food, water, firewood, construction material, medicine, spiritual wellbeing [that] are linked to landscapes.

“Realising the multiple uses of the landscape is important and should be considered in the land use planning in allocating land for new land uses such as forest plantations or tourism,” says Käyhkö.

Utilising remote sensing imagery and other geospatial data and technologies is becoming easier as different image providers such as Google Earth and Bing provide up-to-date high-resolution imagery covering the entire world free of change, Käyhkö explains.

Affordable geospatial technologies and better access to satellite data are rapidly increasing in Africa and therefore geospatial mapping methods can be used in land use planning elsewhere also, the study says.

Chris A. Shisanya, a Professor at the Department of Geography, Kenyatta University, Kenya, says that this is the way to go for rapid assessment of resource utilisation and planning in Africa.

“We have used this method to map hazards in all former provinces of Kenya. We continue using the same in various aspects of our planning at county levels,” explains Shisanya. “Each county now has a geographical information system section in their structures with the role of mapping resources and utilities within their boundaries of jurisdiction.”

“If need arises, satellite data can easily be made available and used for resource planning purposes. In fact, governments should invest in making the hard copies of these satellite images available at community levels,” he says.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

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