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Of road blocks and building blocks

Olajide Kufoniyi
Olajide Kufoniyi
Secretary General, African
Association of Remote
Sensing of the Environment
(AARSE)
Email: [email protected]

Uptake of GI in Africa requires concerted efforts to provide enabling environment to ensure that geospatial info permeates every aspect of society

A Global efforts have been and are continually being made to attain sustainable development in all parts of the world. These include collective setting of goals and agenda such as the UN global Millennium Development Goals (MDG). For example, at the African continent level, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) by the African Union and CODIST are striving to provide enabling environment for sustainable development. However, uptake of GI in Africa still requires concerted efforts to provide enabling environment ‘to ensure that geospatial information permeates every aspect of society and is made available to people who need it, when they need it and in a form that they can use it to make decisions with minimal pre-processing’ for sustainable development.

Overview of status of geospatial information

To make geospatial datasets available, discoverable, better accessible, shareable, interoperable and re-usable much attention has been paid to the development of spatial data infrastructures (SDI) in Africa through the efforts of CODI-Geo. However, the SDI development is progressing very slowly at national levels and appears to be getting poor political support and inadequate participation of stakeholders. The fundamental datasets are either not available at all or they are largely not available in the form and currency required. For example, in many countries, 1:50,000 topographic maps that commonly serve as base maps are out-ofdate and in analog form; cadastral maps/databases are mostly not available while in most cases geodetic controls are not yet unified and adjusted and are not in sufficient density. The 2008 USGS Africa Remote Sensing Study indicated that about 60% of respondents mentioned inadequacy of ground control points as a major stumbling block to geospatial data production. About the same number of respondents reported that elevation data are not adequate in many African countries. The situation is similar with respect to the other fundamental datasets. On data accessibility and dissemination, only 2% of the population of Africa has Internet access thus necessitating efforts to increase this number by huge investments either in communication satellites or by improving the undersea cable infrastructure.

The use of earth observation satellite (EOS) data to generate development information is rapidly improving in Africa following the launching of EOS by African countries – Algeria, Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa which led to increased awareness in decision makers and civil society regarding the applications of EOS and GIS. The availability of free archived Landsat data and SRTM DEMs and cheap alternatives like ASTER data are making satellite data become more affordable thereby contributing to the increase in the uptake of geospatial technology in Africa while users are also eagerly awaiting the CBERS-2B images/2009/july which will be made available free of charge. The recognition of the immense opportunities offered by EO systems for regional cooperation and development has also led to the encouraging evolution of the concept of an African Resource Management Satellite (ARMS) constellation programme that includes Algeria, Nigeria and South Africa and which is expected to welcome other African countries interested in joining the venture.

Even though Landsat and SPOT are the two most popular satellite imagery used in the continent according to the USGS Survey, the same survey indicated that the most desired spatial resolution for satellite images/2009/july is 1 m – 5 m, followed by 63 cm – 90 cm and then 5 m – 120 m. Consequently, accessibility to high resolution images/2009/july needs to be given adequate attention. Again, a GEO-Africa satellite with 25 m resolution XS and 75m SWIR, 300 km swath and daily revisit being proposed will serve very useful role in the generation of fundamental datasets for SDI in Africa. As commendable as the current efforts are towards providing enabling environment for the uptake of GI in Africa, we need to identify the existing challenges and provide solutions to them. Some of these challenges are indicated in the following sub-section.

Factors for slow progress in uptake

The primary data source for mapping is EO satellite images/2009/july. Although numerous EO satellites are available globally, accessibility to satellite images/2009/july when needed in Africa is still difficult. This is a formidable challenge to the contribution of EOS to the uptake of GI in Africa. Apart from the long revisit period of majority of the satellites, Africa faces a lot of challenges in the use of the existing systems. These include:

• 1Difficulty of getting archived and current images/2009/july in African countries due to the archiving policy of image producers: images/2009/july are most often only acquired based upon commercial request which means that any area that has never been requested for will not have any image in the archive.


• 1Absence of permanent receiving stations in the region for the commercial high and medium resolution sensors except for the African-owned satellites (Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa) and Landsat-5 in South Africa. This retards direct data reception and the processing of high-resolution satellite images/2009/july thus increasing the overall cost of satellite image acquisition.
• 1Inadequacy of geodetic reference points for geo-referencing of images/2009/july and other survey and mapping applications.

Essential building blocks for GI uptake

National Geodetic Reference Frame

There is a preponderance of inadequate national geodetic controls in Africa to the extent that survey plans required for the registration of land titles are still being tied to a local origin determined by solar or stellar observations. Mere sketches are even acceptable officially in some cases. Apart from the fact that the planimetric controls may be based on different coordinate systems, they are usually not unified with the vertical controls. To facilitate adequate and fit-for-use geospatial data for various applications, it is therefore necessary to intensify the implementation of AFREF as well as other national geodetic control networks.

Geo-information Archives

Information archives are in general, a critical component of any infrastructure for the enabling environment for innovation. Much of the GI archives in Africa are still paper-based and this limits their accessibility. In many cases, the data are so obsolete that new mapping is required yet it is also essential to convert the obsolete maps to digital for time-series analyses. This leads to double costs that will be difficult to sell to the political decision makers. It is therefore necessary to address this issue of converting the existing analoganalogue data and the appropriate archiving of the converted existing data and the newly produced current digital data.

National Mapping and Geo-information Policies

As a result of the promotion of the development of SDI in Africa, many African countries have realised the need to implement components of the infrastructure. They are also conscious of the need to adopt policies for promoting greater awareness and public access to standard and coordinated geospatial data production, management and dissemination by all sectors including the establishment of a geospatial data clearinghouse at various levels in the country (local, state and federal) with linkages with the private sector. Towards the achievement of the foregoing objectives, various countries have put (or are putting) in place modalities to produce a national GI policy, which will certainly eliminate most of the problems experienced by GI producers and users. In addition to having a national GI policy, it is necessary to put in place a national mapping policy to address in detail the activities of national topographic mapping, provision of geodetic framework as well as cadastral mapping including the funding modalities. These cannot be treated in depth within the national GI policy and its absence can deter production of these vital fundamental datasets.

Funding Issues

Not less than 2.5% of the national budget each year has been generally advocated but the amount allocated is often typically a far cry from this percentage. Unfortunately such budgetary provision often does not take into consideration the amount generated by the agency; a high income generating agency may still attract inadequate budgetary provision. This situation can be substantially reduced by granting autonomy to the agencies. This will allow the agency to be properly funded and thus be in a position to implement new innovation systems in its production strategies.

Human Capacity building

To be fully utilised, the acquisition of GI technology must be complemented by readily available skilled manpower. It is noted that regional GI capacity is improving in Africa with many African countries participating in a variety of notable space technology initiatives. Many GI professionals, technologists and technicians were trained in the obsolete methods of map production whereas, the introduction of GI technology demands a critical mass of well-trained staff at all levels in a reasonable time frame.

Given that many organisations in African countries are unable to afford the costs to send their staff abroad for (re)training programmes except through (limited) external funding support from donor countries and agencies, and considering the number of persons to be trained before achieving capacity utilisation, it is necessary to provide alternative solutions through educational networking of institutions in developed and African countries, i.e., through crossborder education and Web based education/e-learning. International organisations like ISPRS, GEO and FIG have put in place working groups and committees to evolve the necessary modalities and frameworks for effective cross border education. It is also important to strengthen national and regional institutions of higher learning to enable each country to have capacity for research and developmental efforts in its national institutions.

Infrastructure and Access

It is noted that successful uptake of innovative systems in Africa is largely constrained by non-availability of efficient national infrastructures. Adequate and appropriate infrastructure – from communications network to power – including widespread access to such infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, are essential for building the knowledge economy. Thus there is a strong economic justification for genuine national investment on the national infrastructure.

Also, the bandwidth of Internet is often too low to support image and geospatial information transfer. One of the factors for this is that the internet service providers within the countries require huge foreign exchange to pay for the Internet backbones located outside Africa. It is noted that a few African countries including Egypt, Nigeria and Morocco have communication satellites but the services of these satellites should be maximised to promote regional development in Africa through special pan-Africa price regime that will contribute to appreciable increase in the density as well as the bandwidth of Internet services.

Private Sector Simulation

Globally, the private sector has driven technological innovation and the growth of knowledge economy. It is therefore necessary to ensure effective indigenous private sector involvement in the production and management of geospatial data through job outsourcing and public-private sector partnerships. A more flexible data policy should be floated by commercial image suppliers to accommodate re-use of data by government organisations as well as free data for education and research.