In the midst of a very busy news cycle, a silent revolution has taken place in Africa. Data analysts across the continent have collected data on agriculture, land and the environment, and for the first time we have a complete picture of land use in Africa.
More forests and more arable land have been discovered than before and for the first time Seven billion trees discovered outside of forests. We can see the forest and the trees. The analysis also shows that 350 million hectares of arable land are cultivated in Africa, more than twice as much as in the European Union.
These results confirm that Africa has enormous potential to be a production power plant in order to Grow enough food to feed people and earn exports, as other regions with comparable soil resource bases do. The initiative has made Africa the first continent to complete the collection of accurate, comprehensive and harmonized digital data on land use and land use change.
Analysis has shown that the area covered by Africa’s Great Green Wall initiative targets the restoration of arid and semi-arid areas – has 393 million hectares of land with restoration potential. Taken together, that would be the equivalent size of India and represents a great opportunity for the large-scale restoration model led by the Food and Agricuture Organization (FAO) in support of the Great Green Wall.
The rich list of Die Results go further and show, among other things, that 17 million hectares of land have been converted into new arable land since 2000, an increase of five percent over this period. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has the largest forest area (155 million hectares), followed by Angola (66 million hectares). Nigeria has the most arable land (50 million hectares), followed by Ethiopia (29 million hectares).
Only 10 percent of the arable land across the continent is irrigated. Analysts used Collect Earth, a free, open source tool developed by the FAO with support from Google. It allowed users to expand land areas to around 0.5 hectares using very high resolution imagery, which for the first time allowed them to count individual trees and see farmland, forest fires, infrastructure and other land uses.
Important that places with difficult field access could be analyzed, which led the team to discover the seven billion previously unrecognized trees. The results are now freely available to every researcher – they are embedded in the spatial data platform of the FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Initiative and accessible to everyone via EarthMap.org. This means that users can see where deforestation is occurring, where settlement land is invading farmland or grassland, and where wetlands are being lost.
Countries can monitor and report instruments and agreements on climate change, including nationally determined contributions and the Sustainable Development Goals indicators. We believe that science and innovation can provide real solutions to many of the problems the world is facing, and this initiative helps lead the way into the future.
Abebe Haile-Gabriel is FAO Deputy Director General and Regional Representative for Africa with Moctar Sacande, Coordinator of the Desertification Program in Support of the Great Green Wall in Africa, FAO Forestry Department and Danilo Mollicone, Technical Officer, Climate Change Office, FAO biodiversity and environment.