By ASSAR researchers from Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, India and Namibia
Land use and land cover (LULC) is an important regional predictor of the availability of ecosystem services. LULC change (LULCC) combined with, or in response to climate change, is therefore likely to have major implications for the adaptive capacity of communities that access ecosystem services. Using remotely sensed data, LULCC can be mapped and quantified at various scales of time and space, which, in combination with globally available climate data and biophysical models, can be used to assess the response of LULC to climate, and its implications for the availability of ecosystem services.
Starting with a 10-day workshop in Bangalore, India, in March 2017, approximately 15 ASSAR researchers were brought together under the mentorship of colleagues from the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), and through funding provided by START. The training focused on the tools and techniques used to interpret changes in LULC, climate and the link between these two in determining the availability (and productivity) of vegetation and ecosystem services. Follow-up meetings were held in conjunction with the ASSAR annual meetings in Ghana and South Africa in 2017-18. The team is currently finalising a cross-regional synthesis paper on the linkage between LULC and climate at the basin scale for the semi -arid regions of Africa and India for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. In the process, capacities, professional networks and friendships have been forged.
Here's what the researchers gained from this incredible collaboration:
Milind Bunyan, ATREE, India: “ASSAR provided us a unique opportunity to conduct a truly cross-scale, interdisciplinary analysis that marries globally available data with local information gathered from the field, key stakeholders and communities. From the first workshop held in Bangalore, where participants from different regions and disciplines were trained on the datasets and tools that would be of use to them, I was struck by the commitment that teams showed. As one of the workshop organisers, I’d often have to resort to herding people out of the room so the teams would be forced to eat their meals or drink coffee! This enthusiasm has continued through our meetings in Ghana and in South Africa, and even though my ‘day-job’ tosses other balls my way, it continues to fuel my desire to see this work through to a robust research output that will be of use to the communities that we have been studying.”
Vijayasekaran Duraisamy, WOTR, India: “The LULC workshop in Bangalore provided me an opportunity to learn new methods in remote sensing and data processing and enabled me to interact with members of ASSAR’s cross-regional teams. This enhanced my understanding of the project’s many themes and provided new opportunities for collaborative work. The “R” software training helped a lot with my regional research article and cross-regional study. In a short duration, everyone was able to complete the voluminous work for their specific regions. Thanks to the ATREE team for organising the training in a systematic manner.”
Alcade C. Segnon, ICRISAT/University of Ghana: “The ASSAR LULCC capacity building workshop has been instrumental in saving me crucial time in my research. Because of time and resource constraints, I was exploring the possibility of shifting my research questions and approaches. This training came at the right time and introduced to me a new way of approaching my research questions, that is “seeing or thinking about the issues from above”. Although I am from a biological sciences background and quite familiar with R, the training greatly improved my skills in handling and analysing earth observation and remote sensing data. As a result, I was able to quickly make appropriate decisions to advance my research. The workshop also created a space for continuous learning and mentoring, helped develop a network of people from Africa and India—one which I hope will live on long after ASSAR.”
Mekonnen Adnew Degefu, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia: “The data analysis meetings provided us with important opportunities to develop our skills in software packages (R and GIS) and to explore earth observation datasets from global sources that are very important for LULC and ecosystem dynamics. We developed our knowledge on ecosystem changes, drivers of change and research methods for investigation and learned how to use MODIS NDVI, MODIS ET and CHIRPS rainfall datasets for LULC change induced ecosystem dynamics. These newly acquired skills will be very useful for us to conduct similar research in our respective areas. In addition, we are now also able to transfer our new knowledge about software packages, global datasets and research methods to others through training and education. In addition, I’d like to say that while my background is in the natural sciences, the ASSAR research project also created an excellent opportunity for me to acquire qualitative research skills and experiences.”
Ephias Mugari, University of Botswana: “Considering my background in social sciences and my current research focus on ecosystem services, I found the ASSAR LULC workshop to be critical. As a result, I can now easily use both remotely-sensed data analyses and participatory mapping, which is not usually the case among many researchers. Before the workshop, I never had any background in R, and didn’t know how to run any analyses using the software. Fast forward to several months later, I find myself exploring more and undertaking advanced analyses which were never covered during the training as the foundation was laid for such further self teaching. Because of this, I was able to present a poster at Adaptation Futures and an oral presentation on vegetation dynamics, ecosystem services and human adaptations in semi-arid Botswana at a conference in Thailand. I created important professional networks at both of these events. Whilst the training was intensive and even stressful considering the amount of work we had to cover in such a short period of time, it was worth all the sweating and I will forever be grateful to both START and ATREE for all their financial and technical support. Even the relations and networks I created with other workshop participants will forever remain at the core of my heart.”
Cecil Togarepi, University of Namibia: “The LULC training offered me new insights into conducting research using remote-sensed data as well as software tools such as GIS and R of which I only had rudimentary encounters previously. I had never imagined that one day I would be talking about CRU datasets, MODIS, LANDSAT images, CHIRPS, NDVI, greening, browning, and bluewater, which have now become part of my language. Although I am not yet an expert, I do now understand the links between remotely sensed data, data collected through questionnaire surveys, and observations made by researchers. I have also met and made friends through this group which I will cherish. I will forever be grateful to START and ATREE for affording me this opportunity. These are skills that I will apply in my work and also impart to others.”
Jagdish Krishnaswamy, ATREE, India: “Through ASSAR’s ATREE work I did not have anyone directly reporting to me and so I enjoyed being a mentor to everyone in the team. The LULC training activities provided me with the additional opportunity to mentor a young group of researchers that were motivated and eager to learn. It is one of the things I have valued the most about ASSAR. Also, it was the first time for me to work with a group of researchers coming from many countries in Africa, which allowed for very valuable exchanges.”
Chandapiwa Molefe, University of Botswana: “Prior to attending the LULC workshop I had never attempted to work with R as it seemed very complicated. But now I am confident with the software and realise that R is less tedious than I had previously assumed, and that it makes image analyses very exciting. The ATREE team was wonderfully patient and willing to impart knowledge. I am very grateful for this opportunity!”
Rahinatu Sidiki Alare, University of Ghana: “Before this workshop, I had never carried out any biophysical research. During the LULC workshop I was introduced to programming using the R console and studio to analyse data. I also learnt how to visualise and analyse spatial data. This has given me new insights to address climate research with an interdisciplinary approach. With this new knowledge, I am better equipped to carry out research in our study areas on land system changes.”
This article first appeared in the ASSAR Spotlight on Capacity Building (September 2018).