Kenya’s geographic location is a natural resource for equatorial launches of rockets, and for the support of space vehicles. Space activities in Kenya began in the 1960’s with the establishment of the San Marco Centre and subsequently the launch of satellites from a platform at sea. These activities were undertaken under a bilateral agreement between Kenya’s Government and Italian Government. Despite these early advances, the country only established their National Space Agency in 2017, which has in turn ushered a rollout of national space initiatives. 

The agency's strategic plan for 2020-2025 aims to transform the country’s involvement in space activities through capability development that will catalyse the growth of industries critical to the country’s economy and address the socio-economic needs of the country. 

Kenya Space Agency (KSA) is working on the project, MIDST (Monitoring for Information and Decisions using Space Technology), to monitor and guide the management of natural resources in support of decision making for the socio-economic development of the country and the enhancement of the quality of life of their people. 

This project is one of 32 projects selected as part of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) - Google Earth Engine (GEE) Program that provides funding to tackle environmental and social challenges using open Earth Observation (EO) data.

We spoke with Project Lead, Charles Mwangi from KSA, to learn more about the project and how his team is using GEE to support County Governments in Kenya in utilising space-derived data for decision making. 

 

Charles, can you please tell us about your project? 

Our project, MIDST, is seeking to develop technical capacity and tools to assist National and County Government organisations in Kenya to adopt the utilisation of Earth Observation and related space-related technologies to inform the decision making process. 

MIDST will focus on developing products based on pilot studies together with relevant stakeholders across three areas; forests, urbanization and Floods/Landslides. The outcomes from these pilot projects will then be documented for ease of reproducibility and scaling.

  • Forests

In this sub-project, the forests project team led by KSA worked closely with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and other relevant stakeholders to develop a system to monitor forest cover in the Aberdare forest. The outputs from this sub-project have created a need to scale the study to cover the whole country. By using this system, KFS and other bodies would be able to monitor forests, detect logging, land degradation and forest fires for immediate intervention and future prevention. 

  • Urbanisation

In this sub-project, the project team led by KSA and comprising Government agencies involved in spatial planning and Nakuru County Government representatives are looking to develop products based on urbanisation trends in Nakuru town, as a pilot study. It is anticipated that other County Governments could adopt the system and outputs from this project to improve the provision of utilities and support the planning the expansion of urban centres.

  • Floods, landslides and drought 

This sub-project will start later in the year. The project team will be looking at the utilisation of EO data to map out areas affected by floods and landslides in Kenya. The ability to detect disasters will greatly facilitate and support disaster management in terms of knowing where the areas affected are and how to support them.

Image: Project team during a ground truthing of the Aberdares Forest

What challenges are you tackling with the MIDST project? 

The pilot projects selected address challenges related to three prominent United Nations sustainability initiativesthe Paris Agreement, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sustainable Development Goals. Therefore our three pilot studies all correlate to overcoming the challenges associated with the sustainable goals of the future.  

Our forest monitoring project is contributing towards the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, by reducing land degradation and illegal logging. 

Our flood and landslide monitoring project addresses the Sendai Framework initiatives. These initiatives aim to achieve the substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health. 

Lastly, the focus on spatial planning in our urbanisation project will address numerous Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nationsin particular: 

  • Goal two: Zero hunger
  • Goal seven: Affordable and clean energy
  • Goal nine: Industry, innovation and infrastructure
  • Goal eleven: Sustainable cities and communities
  • Goal fifteen: Life on land

How has this project impacted your community?

The MIDST project has provided KSA with an opportunity to co-create products with end-users to demonstrate potential applications of EO data, as well as enhance the linkage and collaboration across different organisations in Kenya. This project is central to the mandate of KSA, which is to promote and coordinate space activities in Kenya.

This project has also been instrumental for capacity building for our staff at KSA and amongst the stakeholders involved in this project. We want to sincerely thank the EO Data Science team for the elaborate training that has enabled the team to develop the products already in place and the on-going sub projects. We continue looking forward to their insights and technical support.

How does GEE help you achieve your project-related goals?

The process of downloading and processing satellite data can be laborious. The computation power needed to analyse the data at a large-scale, and the cost of commercial software needed to analyse this data makes it difficult for developing countries who are struggling with limited resources. 

With GEE we can now achieve these functionalities and capabilities. Multiple datasets that are pre-processed are available for review and analysis on the GEE platform without the need to download them. The computations can be done on the fly at minimal cost to the organisation. GEE has made the turnaround time for product development very short, reducing the time it takes to make decisions.

Image: Kenya Space Agency project team led by Charles Mwangi (standing) planning the implementation of the GEO-GEE unlimited license award.

How will the GEO-GEE funding help your project? 

The GEO-GEE funding will enable us to undertake and deliver on a demonstration project across different sectors of our economy, engage with stakeholders and build the technical capacity of the staff at KSA. We will be able to deliver a system that can be used to monitor forests (and by extension land cover changes) as part of natural resources management, monitor urbanization for better planning and monitor floods/landslides in support of disaster management.

The funding provided technical support and training which allows us to develop capacities across organizations involved in the project while working on systems that address societal needs and delivering on their mandates by tapping into space-derived solutions. This feeds into the mandate of KSA of promoting the use of space data for decision making.

What does success look like to you?

Success for KSA will be the adoption and increased utilisation of space derived  data in support of the decision making process across organisations in the public and private sector in Kenya. 

We hope to eventually develop a platform that combines all these workstreams with varying functionalities to enable decisions makers and advanced users gain insightful information. We also hope the members from the project team will have acquired sufficient technical capacity to be able to use GEE to customize or develop other products in line with their mandates.

It would be amazing if we hear on the news of executive decisions that have been made courtesy of using space derived data! More especially, if those decisions have a positive impacts and improve the livelihoods of citizens.

 

EO Data Science’s role in the GEO-GEE Program

EO Data Science partnered with Google Earth Engine and the Group on Earth Observations to launch the GEO-GEE Program, which supports GEO member countries to operationalise their science as they strive to tackle the world’s biggest sustainable development challenges. 

In July 2020, 32 projects across 22 countries were selected into the program which offers $3 million USD towards product licenses and $1 million USD in technical support from EO Data Science. This funding and support will help these projects tackle global challenges using open Earth data. Read the announcement and list of winners here

Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook to hear about more GEO-GEE winning projects!

 

About the author: Amy Boyes

Amy is the Marketing and Events Officer at NGIS Australia.

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