Modelling agricultural expansion in Kenya's Eastern Arc Mountains biodiversity hotspot
The Taita Hills are the northernmost part of the Eastern Arc Mountains of Kenya and Tanzania, which is one of the most important regions for biological conservation in the world. The indigenous cloud forests in this area have suffered substantial degradation for several centuries due to agricultural expansion. In the Taita Hills, currently only 1% of the original forested area remains preserved. In order to create effective policies to preserve the natural resources and biodiversity of the Eastern Arc Mountains it is crucial to understand the causes and interactions involved in the landscape changes in the most degraded areas. The research presented here aimed to understand the role of landscape attributes and infrastructure components as driving forces of agricultural expansion in the Taita Hills. Geospatial technology tools and a landscape dynamic simulation model were integrated to identify and evaluate the driving forces of agricultural expansion and simulate future landscape scenarios. The results indicate that, if current trends persist, agricultural areas will occupy roughly 60% of the study area by 2030. Agricultural expansion will likely take place predominantly in lowlands and foothills throughout the next 20Â years, increasing the spatial dependence on distance to rivers and other water bodies. The main factors driving the spatial distribution of new croplands were the distance to markets, proximity to already established agricultural areas and distance to roads. Other driving forces of the agricultural expansion, as well as their implications for natural resources conservation, are discussed. Further studies are necessary to integrate the effects of population pressure and climate change on the sustainability and characteristics of local agricultural systems.
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