RCMRD launched land potential knowledge system

The Land-Potential Knowledge System (LandPKS) Project released two mobile applications launched at the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) in Nairobi on 22 April 2015 - one of UN-SPIDER's Regional Support Offices in Africa.

After one and a half years of design, development and testing, two of the LandPKS (www.landpotential.org) mobile applications (LandInfo & LandCover) can now be accessed on Google Play. These innovative mobile data collection and analysis tools support local land management and land use planning to optimize food security, land restoration, climate change adaptation and biodiversity conservation programmes.


LandInfo allows users to enter data about soil texture, topography and easily observable soil properties. It provides free Cloud storage and sharing, and allows the app to return site-specific temperature, rainfall, estimated amount of water the soil can store for plants, and growing season length. One of the LandInfo outputs such as available water capacity is an important indicator of the land potential to sustain crop growth.


LandCover is a simple tool for rapidly recording vegetation cover and structure using a 1 meter or yard stick in a 1/4 hectare (3/5 acre) plot. Indicators are automatically calculated on the phone, and all data and indicators are automatically uploaded to the Cloud as soon as a data connection is available. The outputs of the Land cover provide important information such as percentages of bare ground and vegetation cover which is important in rangeland health monitoring.

Launching LandInfo and LandCover

Speaking during the launch, Dr. Hussein Farah (Director General, RCMRD) said, “The launch of these applications is in line with RCMRD’s objective of using space technologies and science to benefit the people on the ground such as farmers to make informed decisions on using their pieces of land”. The African Technology Policy Studies Network’s (ATPS) Executive Director, Dr. Nicholas Ozor asserted that technology will optimize land potential, and that a collaborative initiative should involve all stakeholders.

Dr. Patrick Wargute, the Director Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing (DRSRS) underscored the importance of sustainability. He said that most human activities depend on land, and since land resources are scarce, there is need for their proper management. Dr. Adam Beh, from the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) stated that the launch provided a forum for promoting technology produced in collaboration with different stakeholders. He was also grateful to RCMRD for hosting the event.

Knowledge on land potential

The Ministry of Agriculture was represented at the launch by Dr. Isaiah Okeyo. Rationale Achieving long-term food security while protecting biodiversity and other ecosystem services will require sustainable intensification on existing lands, restoration of degraded lands, and converting to agriculture only those lands where potential production is high, and degradation risk and loss of other ecosystem services is low. This depends on knowledge and information about how land potential varies at field to regional scales. Existing knowledge and information about land potential is poorly integrated, and unavailable at the scale of small farms where it is most urgently needed. Even where climate is uniform, soil variability can result in drastically different potential production, and resistance and resilience to degradation at sub-hectare scales.

A shared understanding of land potential can be used by governments, farmers, pastoralists, and development workers to sustainably increase agricultural production, biodiversity conservation, and improvement of other ecosystem services. This understanding is also required to target climate adaptation projects to where they are most needed and will have the highest impact. 

GIS and other technologies for land potential

LandPKS Background LandPKS is composed of a Geographic Information System (GIS) powered cloud based knowledge engine and a set of android tools.

In Kenya, the project is hosted by RCMRD under SERVIR, in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), and the African Technology Policy Studies Network’s (ATPS) with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Pilot countries for the LandPKS project are Namibia and Kenya.

LandPKS will allow the potential of land to be defined explicitly and dynamically for unique and constantly changing soil and climate conditions. The land-potential assessments will be updated based on new evidence regarding the success or failure of new management systems on different soils. Our knowledge engine, together with mobile phone applications and cloud computing technologies, will also facilitate more rapid and complete integration of local and scientific knowledge into land management.

LandPKS will integrate existing natural resource databases with field data collection of knowledge and information using mobile phone technologies. Multiple sources of knowledge and information will be accessed based on site-specific characteristics. Users will measure soil depth (up to 120 cm) and provide a simple description of surface and subsurface texture, land cover and land use. Observations are made of slope, slope shape and general soil conditions. A geo-tagged photograph of the excavated soil combined with an internal calibration reference will be used to determine soil color, while an oblique photograph will be used to confirm the land cover and use descriptions.

The photographs and documentation will also serve as benchmarks for future monitoring. Users will eventually have the opportunity to provide additional information through a tiered, iterative series of questions based on both their initial inputs and additional information (e.g. temperature, precipitation and elevation) which can be accessed using the GPS location provided by the mobile phone. Through further integration with information on local land management systems, a set of site-specific management options can be provided, with an indication of potential production, degradation resistance and resilience across a range of additional inputs.

An understanding of land-potential can be used to determine where: Land is not meeting its productive potential (for all ecosystem services); unrealistic expectations are driving unsustainable development investments; and proposed intensification is likely to lead to irreversible degradation.

How it will work 

LandPKS will use mobile phone applications and analytical computing to:

  • Globalize access to knowledge and information about land potential for governments and communities.
  • Identify the knowledge and information to each type of land and soil.
  • Connect people with similar types of lands and challenges with each other.

LandPKS will allow farmers, development organizations, extension workers and national governments to share, access and apply the best available knowledge and information at field, regional, and national scales. It will allow land-potential to be defined explicitly and dynamically for unique and constantly changing soil and climate conditions, and to be updated based on new evidence about the success or failure of new management systems on different soils.