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LandPKS Capacity Building in Kisarawe District, Tanzania

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Photo 1: Soil samples collected and ready for hand texturing guided by the LandPKS app.

The LandPKS team spent three days last week in Kisarawe District, Tanzania training and testing the new Land Capability Classification (LCC) function of the LandPKS app.  The LCC classifies the land into eight classes (from prime agricultural land to land that would be better used for livestock, wildlife conservation, or forestry) based on the potential productivity of the land.  The class is determined by slope, soil texture, and seven different soil limitations such as soil depth, permeability, flooding, etc.  We were joined in Kisarawe District by staff from Tanzania’s National Land Use Planning Commission (NLUPC) as well as Kisarawe District staff including land use planners, agricultural officers, and livestock specialists.

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Photo 2: Dr. Charles Mkalawa with the NLUPC leading the LandPKS training with the village government and local farmers.

We spent three days in the Kisarawe District, which is a rural area just outside of Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania.  The first day everyone visited the nearby village of Mtamba and the LandPKS team trained the national and district level staff, alongside local village government officials and farmers, on how to use the LCC function within the LandPKS app.  We also discussed how the LCC can be integrated into land use planning in order to better match the land use with the land capability.  The second day, we visited the villages of Masanganya and Marumbo in Kisarawe District.  Dr. Charles Mkalawa from the NLUPC conducted the trainings with the village governments and farmers the second day.  The third and last day, we visited Mhaga, and the staff from the NLUPC and Kisarawe District conducted the entire training!  It was excellent to see how quickly the staff understood the LCC function and the LandPKS app, and were able to train others within three short days.  These staff are now well trained to help others learn how to use the LandPKS app for biophysical characterization of the land for land use planning.  All of us at the LandPKS team were very impressed and by the NLUPC and Kisarawe District staff are looking forward to future collaborations and implementation of the LandPKS app for land use planning efforts in Tanzania and beyond.

Video Caption: Staff from the Kisarawe District leading the LandPKS training.

 

The LandPKS app is free to download for both Android and iOS.  Learn more about the LandPKS app on the landpotential.org website.  Training resources, including guides and online trainings, are also available on the website. The LandPKS app was developed by the LandPKS Team for the Land-Potential Knowledge System (LandPKs) with support from USAID and USDA-ARS.   Please contact us at contact@landpotential.org with any questions, comments, or feedback.

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Photo 3: The LandPKS Team, NLUPC Staff, and Kisarawe District Staff as the sun was setting on our third day in Kisarawe.

User-Centered Design: Bi-Annual User Feedback Survey

The LandPKS team is committed to user-centered app design, and a major part of this includes soliciting feedback from our users in order to help improve the LandPKS app in order to meet their needs. The LandPKS team conducts a bi-annual online user survey to gain feedback about various components of the app. We conducted our lastest bi-annual survey last month and want to say thank you to all our users who contributed their thoughts and ideas!

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Results in Figure 1 show that many of our users are long time users of LandPKS and have been using the app for more than 2 years, while others are new to LandPKS.  We also asked our users which LandPKS modules they use most in their work (Figure 2).  Importantly, most of our users are utilizing both the LandCover and LandInfo modules in order to characterize the soil and monitor vegetation.  Additionally, a handful of users indicated they had collected data on more than 300 sites using LandPKS!

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We also asked users a variety of questions about the new LandPKS App Version 3.0 as well as their thoughts on modules we are currently designing and programming.  Users reported that they are very likely to use the upcoming SoilColor and Land Capability Classification Modules which will be released in the next few months.  Further, many users stated that they would like to be able to download PDF reports and shape files of their data from the LandPKS Data Portal (https://landpotential.org/data-portal/).  As a result of this feedback we plan to integrate these functions into the Data Portal in the near future.  Our users have also found the newly available results in the LandPKS App Version 3.0 helpful to their work.  Particularly, users find the bar chart data summaries in LandCover helpful as well as the visual summaries of soil texture and rock fragment volume by depth.

The LandPKS app (landpotential.org) helps users make more sustainable land management decisions by assisting users to collect geo-located data about their soils, vegetation, and site characteristics; and returning back to users results and information about their site. The LandPKS app Version 3.0 is free and available now on the Google Play Store and iTunes Store. The LandPKS app was developed by the LandPKS Team for the Land-Potential Knowledge System (LandPKs) with support from USAID and USDA-ARS. Please contact us at contact@landpotential.org with any questions, comments, or feedback.

 

By Amy Quandt, LandPKS Global Coordinator

 

Designing the LandPKS App: Guidelines for Developing a Global App

The LandPKS app (landpotential.org) helps users make more sustainable land management decisions by assisting users to collect geo-located data about their soils, vegetation, and site characteristics; and returning back to users useful results and information about their site. The LandPKS app is a global app that can be used in any location around the world. As visible on the LandPKS Data Portal (landpotential.org/data-portal/), there have been LandPKS sites completed on 6 continents!

While being a global app has major advantages, it also comes with design challenges in order to assist our global users. In order to address this, we have developed three major design guidelines:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Usability
  3. Usefulness

In order to maximize simplicity, the LandPKS team aims to minimize the number of components and screens. We aim to break tasks into manageable chunks so that users are not overwhelmed.  Additionally, we strive to have the LandPKS app be as visual as possible by using simple graphics and charts. For example, in the vegetation monitoring module, LandCover, users select vegetation types based on simple images.

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Figure 1: Selection of vegetation and cover types in the LandCover module of the LandPKS app. Users choose from these simple images to determine what types of vegetation are present at their site.

In order to maximize usability of the LandPKS app we aim to design the navigation of the app to be intuitive and seamless. Most importantly, the LandPKS app is designed and built to be useable by non-technical experts. Therefore, we aim to use minimal technical language, include question marks with brief text and/or graphical explanations, and include explanatory videos when needed.  For example, in the LandInfo module, we include videos that help explain how to hand-texture the soil for a user who is not a soil scientist and may be unfamiliar with how to hand-texture the soil.

Figure 2: Screenshots of videos that help walk a user through how to hand texture the soil in the SoilInfo Module of the LandPKS app.

Lastly, we focus on the usefulness of the LandPKS app globally. This includes soliciting feedback from our users in order to help mold the LandPKS app to meet their needs. The LandPKS team conducts a bi-annual online user survey to gain feedback about various components of the app. We also spent a month in Tanzania last year testing the app with smallholder farmers and agricultural extension agents, making sure they found the app useful and were able to understand the outputs.

 

While the effort to create a global app is guided by the three steps outlined here, it is still very much a work in progress. The LandPKS app Version 3.0 is free and available now on the Google Play Store and iTunes Store. Learn more about the LandPKS app on the landpotential.org website. The LandPKS app was developed by the LandPKS Team for the Land-Potential Knowledge System (LandPKs) with support from USAID and USDA-ARS. Please contact us at contact@landpotential.org with any questions, comments, or feedback.

By Amy Quandt, LandPKS Global Coordinator

Announcing the Release of LandPKS 3.0

The LandPKS team is happy to announce that we have released a new and improved version of the LandPKS app.  This new version is a result of months of hard work for everyone on our team, as well as helpful feedback from our users around the world.  The LandPKS app helps users make more sustainable land management decisions by assisting users to collect geo-located data about their soils, vegetation, and site characteristics; and returning back to users useful results and information about their site.  It also provides free cloud storage and sharing, which means that you and others can access your data from any computer from our Data Portal at https://landpotential.org/data-portal/.  The LandPKS app does not require a data connection to be used, and users can upload their data when they next have connectivity.  LandPKS app includes two modules: LandInfo and LandCover.  The LandInfo module walks a user through how to determine the texture of their soil, which is critical information for smallholder farmers and can help them plant crops suitable to their soil type.  The LandCover module walks a user through how to collect vegetation cover data, important for vegetation monitoring and ecosystem restoration. The LandPKS app Version 3.0 is free and available now on the Google Play Store and iTunes Store.

What’s New?

  • Updated and improved user interface
  • Easy navigation between data input and report (results) screens
  • Graphical LandCover results including cover trends over time
  • Graphical LandInfo results with a table of texture and rock fragment volume by depth
  • Available Water Holding Capacity and Infiltration calculations for your soil
  • Upload data to the Data Portal at any time by hitting the “Synchronize Now ?” button

 

Other Improved Features Include:

  • A simple, primarily graphics-based interface that minimizes language and literacy requirements.
  • Embedded tutorials and explanations to guide the user through the app.
  • Offline data collection
  • Unlimited access to stored data via our Data Portal at https://landpotential.org/data-portal/

 

Learn more about the LandPKS app on the landpotential.org website.  Training resources, including guides and online trainings, are also available on the website. The LandPKS app was developed by the LandPKS Team for the Land-Potential Knowledge System (LandPKs) with support from USAID and USDA-ARS.   Please contact us at contact@landpotential.org with any questions, comments, or feedback.

LandPKS Tools: Overview Presentation at the Jornada Experimental Range

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The Land-Potential Knowledge System project (LandPKS) is based out of the USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range (https://jornada.nmsu.edu/). The Jornada focuses on the management of land resources in the southwestern US, as well as globally. The Jornada programs are comprised of long-term scientific investigations, experiments that contribute to national research objectives, development of technologies applicable to land management, and synthesis of information for public use. The Jornada works to find solutions to real problems.

A few weeks ago, the LandPKS team presented an overview of the new LandPKS App (Version 3.0) at the Jornada. Caitlin Holmes (LandPKS Program Coordinator) introduced the LandPKS team and discussed the new LandPKS website (landpotential.org). Amy Quandt (LandPKS Global Coordinator) presented an overview of the LandPKS app and how it is being used in Tanzania and Kenya to help land managers make more sustainable land management decisions. Jeff Herrick (LandPKS Project Lead) then provided an in-depth live demo of the app and walked the audience through how to use both the LandInfo and LandCover Modules. Shawn Salley (LandPKS Soil Scientist and Head of Research) presented the various research projects that the LandPKS team are working on. Lastly, Brandon Bestelmeyer (Researcher Leader at the Jornada) and Jeff Herrick discussed future linkages between LandPKS and EDIT (Ecosystems Dynamics Interpretive Tool) to support ecological site-based management decisions. The LandPKS team hopes that this video presentation is helpful to organizations and individuals interested in using new, innovative technologies for more sustainable land management. The LandPKS app is available for free on both the Google Play and iTunes Stores. Please contact us at contact@landpotential.org with any questions or inquiries.

Linking Land Potential to Ecosystem Response

As part of a growing community of LandPKS users, we are highlighting use cases around the world. Below is one of the use cases from the United States.

At New Mexico State University, student researchers are using the LandInfo module of the LandPKS mobile application to augment a more detailed vegetation monitoring program designed to investigate the ecological impacts of brush control on big sagebrush communities in northern New Mexico. On research sites, the assessment of land potential based on soil properties is providing useful insight into ecosystem response to herbicide applications designed to achieve management objectives linked to livestock production and other ecosystem services. By linking LandPKS evaluations to plant and soil biological community response, researchers hope to develop best management practices for future brush control treatments to produce the desired results while also minimizing degradation risk.

Jeremy Schallner and Amy Ganguli (Graduate Student and Associate Professor of Range Science) Department of Animal and Range Sciences, New Mexico State University

LandCover: A Mobile Tool for Vegetation Monitoring

LandCover: A Mobile Tool for Vegetation Monitoring

By Amy Quandt

The Land Potential-Knowledge System (LandPKS; landpotential.org) is creating mobile applications that help land managers collect, store, and analyze data in order to inform decision making, agricultural production, and vegetation monitoring and restoration.  It does this through the use of the LandPKS Mobile app, which is free to download and use for both Android and iPhone.  The LandPKS app currently has two modules: LandInfo and LandCover.

The major goal of the LandCover module is to assist users with collecting vegetation cover data using a point-intercept method.  LandCover is designed to be a simple, user-friendly substitute for traditional paper monitoring sheets for vegetation cover.  The only equipment needed is a meter/yard stick and the LandPKS app installed on a smartphone.  First, the user designates a center point of the plot.  Next, the user walks 5 meters/yards in one direction from the center, drops the stick, and enters which vegetation types directly touch the stick at 5 points along the stick, measures plant height, and establishes if there are canopy or basal gaps.  This is then repeated at 10, 15, 20, and 25 meters/yards along that given transect.  Lastly, this process is repeated in the 3 remaining transect.  Overall, this method yields 100 points of vegetation cover data per plot in about 20 minutes.

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Importantly, results are calculated immediately on the phone about cover type, plant cover, canopy height, and gaps.  In addition to receiving results on the phone, users can also access their data on our open-source data portal at portal.landpotential.org.  Further, a user can enter vegetation cover data for the same plot at various intervals and immediately get results about trends in vegetation cover.  LandCover can be used globally, and the module is currently being used extensively in the rangelands of Namibia and Kenya.

There are several important advantages of using the LandCover module for measuring vegetation cover.  First, it gets rid of paper forms that can be lost or damaged. Second, results are delivered immediately to a user without the need for extensive data analysis.  This benefit was mentioned by rangeland managers in Samburu County, Kenya, who told the LandPKS team that now they can see results directly on the phone themselves, instead of waiting months to maybe get results back from their headquarter offices.  This makes it easier and more efficient for real-time vegetation monitoring and decision making. Third, the LandCover module makes vegetation restoration efforts easy to monitor.  This has important implications for both maintaining wildlife habitat and encouraging the growth of fodder species for livestock.  Lastly, the LandCover results help natural resource managers make more sustainable decisions about their land, which can lead to greater productivity and less environmental degradation.  Download the LandPKS app to try out the LandCover module today!  For more information about LandPKS please visit our website at landpotential.org or e-mail us at contact@landpotential.org.

 

Introducing Heather Brown: Web Developer

The LandPKS Team would like to introduce Heather Brown, our new LandPKS Web Developer.  Heather has been working hard to improve both the usability and usefulness of the LandPKS website over the past few months.  Heather graduated with her Masters of Library and Information Science degree from San Jose State University in May 2016. Her focus was in web design and information architecture. Heather is responsible for designing and maintaining web pages of Land Potential and Portal websites. Her most recent project included constructing a new website for Land Potential with the help of several of our enigmatic team members.
In order to create the new site Heather had to research all available web builders to see which one would best serve our needs and enable the growth of our organization and project. Once the web builder was chosen she had to import all relevant data and text into the new site. With the help of our graphic designer and local coordinator, the theme, color scheme, and page images were chosen. With the new site up and running Heather will be responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of the site and providing assistance where needed. She is hoping to be able to develop plugins relevant to our project’s work and upload them to WordPress for more organizations to employ.
On a more personal note, Heather enjoys gardening, crafting, and trying new recipes. She believes that living in the southwest provides a fun challenge when trying to construct a garden.

Location Matters! LandPKS Can Provide Point-Scale Soil Information

The Land Potential-Knowledge System (LandPKS; landpotential.org) was created to help put valuable information about the land, including climate, soils, and vegetation, in the hands of land managers across the world.  It does this through the use of the LandPKS Mobile app, which is free to download and use for both Android and Iphone.  Importantly, LandPKS is a way to both input and access data that is point-based and georeferenced. The LandInfo module is one component of the LandPKS app and allows the user to obtain information about the soil directly beneath their feet. The LandInfo module walks a user through digging a hole and hand-texturing the soil to determine the soil texture and available water holding capacity or AWC. Future versions of LandInfo will also include infiltration rates, organic matter, soil color, and have algorithms that match the user-input data about soil texture with global soil maps to provide the user with the specific name of their soil.

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The point-based model used by LandPKS is incredibly powerful because in many parts of the world the soil varies significantly from place to place and these changes in soil types can have dramatic impacts for farmers and others aiming to utilize that land.  One excellent example is from the village of Nyamihuu, located near Iringa, Tanzania (image below).  With local farmers, the LandPKS team dug three LandInfo Plots within a short distance from each other on a slightly sloping landscape.  The differences in soil texture and AWC were quite drastic, with the Lower Field having almost double the AWC of the Upper Field.  This has serious implications for farmers because the Lower Field will be generally more productive due to the greater ability to hold water in the soil for crops to utilize.  Further, the Forest plot had by far the lowest AWC, which is important because it suggests that clearing the forest for cultivation may not be worth the effort and environmental impact.

 

The lesson here is that location matters!  Soil can vary from one farm to the next, and LandPKS can empower farmers, agricultural extension agents, and others to gain access to site-specific soil information.  Knowing your soil texture and AWC can influence what decisions are made.  First, it can help a land manager decide if they want to farm a piece of land or not.  As the example of the Forest plot above shows, some land is not suitable for agriculture, and LandPKS can help provide knowledge to show this.  Second, soil texture and AWC may influence decisions about crop selection or crop varieties.  Planting crops that are suitable for their specific soil will help farmers increase production and farm more sustainably.  For example, the farmer on the Upper Field may want to plant more drought resistant crops or practice water conservation measures in order to make up for the lower AWC of their farm.  Location matters, and LandPKS is one tool that can provide point-based, georeferenced data to those who need it to make more sustainable land management decisions.  For more information about LandPKS please visit our website at landpotential.org or e-mail us at contact@landpotential.org.

Online Training for Using the LandPKS App – Available Now!

Want to learn more about using the LandPKS app?  Interested in learning about how to access, analyze, and interpret your LandPKS results on the LandPKS Data Portal (portal.landpotential.org)? Now it is as easy as accessing our new online LandPKS training at http://learn.landpotential.org/.  You can create an account to track your progress or use the training as a guest.  If you have any trouble accessing the training, please contact us as contact@landpotential.org.