Africa’s transboundary Peace Parks aim to restore ecosystem connectivity and promote economic development of local host communities.  However, more than 10 years since the establishment of the first Peace Park it remains unclear if they are successful in achieving either conservation or development goals. Despite the predictions arising from the economic theory, previous research suggests there is substantial conflict between rural residents and the agendas of governments and/or international conservation organizations associated with the environmental conservation.  The proposed study takes a mixed method approach to study the linkages between land cover and land use (LCLU) change and perceptions of socio-economic wellbeing and attitudes towards conservation areas.  We leverage existing data on the Mozambican portion of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP), building upon previous NSF-funded research project of Co-I Silva (an early-career social scientist) where she conducted a socio-economic survey and in-depth interviews with 375 households located in or near the southwestern boundary of the GLTP, in order to develop coupled socio-economic and remote sensing techniques that can be applied to assess human wellbeing, develop understanding of causal drivers of land use and management, and enhance predictions of human land use behaviors in conservation areas of Africa and potentially around the world.  

While satellite imagery has been extensively used in support of monitoring protected areas worldwide, the traditional satellite-based observations of land cover from moderate (10 - 100 m) and coarse (≥ 100 m) resolution sensors are sub-optimal for monitoring and assessment of low-density rural development in Africa. These communities are mostly small settlements characterized by low contrast between natural soil and vegetation background and low-density rural dwellings (mainly made from local natural materials). This study will capitalize on the broader availability of multi-temporal Very High Resolution (VHR) (< 5m) satellite imagery to monitor fine-scale LCLU change processes that occur at the household and village levels which can be directly linked to household socio-economic surveys. The project will thus considerably enhance our understanding of the dynamics driving land use decisions of people living in or near protected, high-biodiversity environments and will provide documented approaches for enhancing the social value of NASA technology projects for rural people living near parks and protected areas.

The proposed project explicitly addresses all major priorities identified by the LCLUC program.  It investigates the direct forcing of socio-economic parameters on land cover dynamics in Sub-Saharan Africa. This study (1) investigates how well information from self-reported natural resource use compares with satellite observations; (2) assesses the effects of global governance on land use decisions by comparing land use patterns of communities located within and outside of Peace Park management jurisdiction; (3) explicitly investigates how land use patterns are influenced by the perceptions and experiences of local residents; and (4) uses an iterative, mixed methodology to explore the impacts of Peace Parks at the regional and local scales.  We will combine use of remote sensing from VHR and Landsat TM satellite instruments and socio-economic surveys to examine the impact of individual, household, community-level perceptions and experiences with conservation in conjunction with state- and international-level conservation policies on the resultant pattern of LCLU dynamics and their implications for biodiversity in the GLTP.  Finally, the proposed work will contribute to the development of methods for quantifying LCLU change in low-density rural dwellings from VHR image analysis and will explore scaling the relevant metrics to applications for moderate resolution imagery.

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