‘Virtual Kenya’ web platform launched today: User-friendly interactive maps for charting human and environmental health

Map of the Tana River Delta in Nature's Benefits in Kenya

Map of the the Upper Tana landforms and rivers published in Nature’s Benefits in Kenya Nature’s Benefits in Kenya: An Atlas of Ecosystems and Human Well-Being, published in 2007 by the World Resources Institute, the Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing of the Kenya Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the Central Bureau of Statistics of the Kenya Ministry of Planning and National Development, and ILRI.

For the last nine months, the World Resources Institute (USA) and Upande Ltd, a Nairobi company offering web mapping technology to the African market, have been working to develop what has been coined ‘Virtual Kenya,’ an online interactive platform with related materials for those with no access to the internet.  The content was developed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Kenya Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing (DRSRS) and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (previously the Central Bureau of Statistics). The Wildlife Clubs of Kenya and Jacaranda Designs Ltd developed offline educational materials. Technical support was provided by the Danish International Development Assistance (Danida) and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida).

The Virtual Kenya platform was launched this morning at Nairobi’s ‘iHub’ (Innovation Hub), an open facility for the technology community focusing on young entrepreneurs and web and mobile phone programers, designers and researchers. Peter Kenneth, Kenya’s Minister of State for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030, was the guest of honour at the launch.

The minister remarked that:

Given that the government has facilitated the laying of fibre optic cabling across the country and is now in the process of establishing digital villages in all the constituencies, the Virtual Kenya initiative could not have come at a better time. I hope that it will accelerate the uptake of e-learning as an important tool in our school curriculum.

Virtual Kenya is designed to provide Kenyans with high-quality spatial data and cutting-edge mapping technology to further their educational and professional pursuits. The platform provides, in addition to online access to publicly available spatial datasets, interactive tools and learning resources for exploring these data.

Users both inside and outside of Kenya will be able to view, download, publish, share, and comment on various map-based products.

The ultimate goal of Virtual Kenya is to promote increased data sharing and spatial analysis for better decision-making, development planning and education in Kenya, while at the same time demonstrating the potential and use of web-based spatial planning tools.

The Atlas
At the moment, the Virtual Kenya platform features maps and information based on Nature’s Benefits in Kenya: An Atlas of Ecosystems and Human Well-Being, published jointly in 2007 by the World Resources Institute (USA), ILRI, DRSRS the National Bureau of Statistics. Publication of the Atlas was funded by Danida, ILRI, Irish Aid, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sida and the United States Agency for International Development.

The Atlas overlays geo-referenced statistical information on human well-being with spatial data on ecosystems and their services to yield a picture of how land, people, and prosperity are related in Kenya.

By combining the Atlas’s maps and data on ecosystem services and human well-being, analysts can create new ecosystem development indicators, each of them capturing a certain relationship between resources and residents that can shed light on development in these regions. This approach can be used to analyze ecosystem-development relationships among communities within a certain distance of rivers, lakes and reservoirs; or the relations between high poverty areas and access to intensively managed cropland; or relations among physical infrastructure, poverty and major ecosystem services.

Decision-makers can use the maps to examine the spatial relationships among different ecosystem services to shed light on their possible trade-offs and synergies or to examine the spatial relationships between poverty and combinations of ecosystem services.

Virtual Kenya Platform
The Virtual Kenya platform is designed to allow users with more limited mapping expertise, specifically in high schools and universities, to take full advantage of the wealth of data behind the Atlas. The website also introduces more advanced users to new web-based software applications for visualizing and analyzing spatial information and makes public spatial data sets freely available on the web to support improved environment and development planning.

The Virtual Kenya website provides users with a platform to interactively view, explore, and download Atlas data in a variety of file formats and software applications, including Virtual Kenya Tours using Google Earth. In addition, GIS users in Kenya will—for the first time—have a dedicated online social networking community to share their work, comment and interact with each other on topics related to maps and other spatial data.

For those with limited mapping and GIS experience, Virtual Kenya will increase awareness of resources and tools available online to visualize and explore spatial information. For users and classrooms that do not have access to the Internet yet, other materials such as wall charts, student activity booklets, teachers guide, as well as the DVD with all the Virtual Kenya data and software will be available, giving them the opportunity to interact with tools available on the Virtual Kenya website.

Virtual Kenya email: info@virtualkenya.org

Virtual Kenya on the web:
Website: http://virtualkenya.org
Twitter: @virtualkenya
Facebook: VirtualKenya
YouTube: http://youtube.com/user/VirtualKenya

Read more about Nature’s Benefits in Kenya: An Atlas of Ecosystems and Human Well-Being, or download the Atlas, published by World Resources Institute, ILRI, Kenya Central Bureau of Statistics, and Kenya Department of Remote Surveys and Remote Sensing, 2007.

Editor’s note: The Kenya Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing (DRSRS) was incorrectly named in the original version and corrected on 26 June 2011.

New atlas helps identify connections between poverty and ecosystems

On Wednesday 30 May, ILRI and partners launched ‘Nature’s benefits in Kenya: An atlas of ecosystems and well-being’. It is a first attempt to provide information on how people, land and prosperity are related.

Cover of Nature’s benefits in Kenya: An atlas of ecosystems and well-being

The atlas is a multi-year effort between two Kenyan organisations and two international organisations – the Kenyan Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), Kenya’s Department of Remote Surveys and Remote Sensing (DRSRS), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) – and many others.

This atlas is a first for Kenya. It is a step forward from the landmark findings of the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment – that 15 of the world’s ecosystem services are degraded – and provides a model for other countries to develop their own similar maps. Similar studies are already planned for Uganda.

ILRI economist and lead author, Patti Kristjanson, said, ‘Four institutions, 13 collaborators, 67 authors and 23 reviewers – the many people and institutions that collaborated in this study is truly remarkable. Kenya, with this book, has become a leader in facilitating innovative institutional partnerships to explore and improve our understanding of the connections between poverty and the environment.’

The links between poverty and ecosystems are often overlooked. For the majority of the poor, rural environmental resources are key to better livelihoods and economic growth. Attaining development goals means policymakers and civil-society groups need to access evidence-based information and analysis on the numerous interconnections between environmental resources and human well-being.

Robin Reid, a landscape ecologist at ILRI and a lead author, said ‘There is a crippling division between sectors and disciplines within the areas of poverty and the environment. This is an effort to cross these boundaries. This has not been done in many places. It is an attempt to close the gap between science, policy and communities so that science can be applied more quickly on the ground. We, at ILRI, are eager to engage and help at every step of the way.’

The atlas and its 96 different maps include significant policy and economic development analyses that will be useful to policy-makers worldwide to improve understanding of the relationships between poverty and the environment. The atlas overlays statistical information on population and household expenditures with spatial data on ecosystems and their services -water availability, livestock and wildlife populations, etc. – to provide a picture of how land, people and prosperity are related in Kenya.

Mohammed Said, a lead author and scientist at ILRI explains: ‘One of the maps shows the spatial coincidence of poverty and locations with high milk production. Most of the areas with high milk production correspond to locations with a low incidence of poverty, but further investigation is needed to determine whether households in these communities became less poor once they became high milk producers or whether a certain amount of capital had to be in place to support a high-milk production system. Similarly, further examination of areas of high milk production and high poverty rates will provide useful insights into the causes of high poverty rates.’

Professor Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement, 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate and member of Tetu Constituency of the Kenya Parliament wrote the foreward to the Atlas and commended the contribution it can make to sound decision-making and good governance.

‘As a result of this type of work, we will never be able to claim that we did not know. Rather, using this knowledge, we can move forward to protect our environment, provide economic opportunity for everyone, and build a strong democracy’ said Maathai.

Maathai’s views were echoed by Edward Sambili, Permanent Secretary, Kenya’s Ministry of Planning and National Development, at the book launch on Wednesday. He concluded: ‘This (book) is going to change the lives of Kenyans. It is going to reduce poverty.’


The book is available for download in PDF format as an entire document or by chapter.

Full book.
(PDF: 15MB)

Natures Benefit in Kenya_Cover
(PDF: 856KB)

Authors and Credits
(PDF: 466KB)

Authors and Credits
(PDF: 466KB)

Planting a Seedling for Better Desicion-Making_Wangari Maathai_Nobel Peace Laureate-2004
(PDF: 62KB)

Table of Contents
(PDF: 62KB)

Natures Benefits in Kenya_Executive Summary
(PDF: 97KB)

Building Partnerships for Better Poverty-Environment Analyses
(PDF: 61KB)

Preface and Readers Guide
(PDF: 75KB)

(PDF: 98KB)

Chapter 1_Ecosystems and Ecosystem Service
(PDF: 1.4MB)

Chapter 2_Spatial Patterns of Poverty and Human Well-Being
(PDF: 1.6MB)

Chapter 3_Water
(PDF: 1.8MB)

Chapter 4_Food
(PDF: 2.3MB)

Chapter 5_Biodiversity
(PDF: 2.5MB)

Chapter 6_Tourism
(PDF: 2.2MB)

Chapter 7_Wood
(PDF: 2MB)

Chapter 8_The Upper Tana – Patterns of Ecosystem Services and Poverty
(PDF: 4.5MB)

Lessons Learned and Next Steps
(PDF: 100KB)

(PDF: 72MB)

(PDF: 39KB)

(PDF: 482KB)

The geography of poverty in Kenya

Prestigious PNAS chooses ILRI and partner research on the ‘geography of poverty in Kenya’ for its cover article that leads a special feature on world poverty (23 Oct 2007) highlighting innovative work of exceptional significance.

Cover image of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Vol. 104. No 43. Copyright (2007) National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A. Reprinted with permission.

This joint research investigates the link between poverty incidence and geographical conditions within rural areas in Kenya.

The article, ‘Spatial determinants of poverty in rural Kenya’, is one of a series of research articles in PNAS’s Poverty and Hunger Special Feature focusing on poverty and sustainability science in developing countries. The ILRI paper analyses how geography determines welfare levels in rural Kenya and demonstrates why strategies targeting provincial level poverty reduction are needed to achieve broadscale development.

PNAS Poverty and Hunger Special Feature

African exceptionalism dominates development needs today
‘When we began to put together this special feature on poverty and sustainability science, we sought significant science-based research and perspectives on poverty worldwide. However, the six articles that have emerged from a lengthy solicitation, preparation, and review process, with one exception, all focus on sub-Saharan Africa.’

‘(This) serves to provide the latest evidence for an African exceptionalism that dominates the development needs of today.’

‘Briefly stated, all developing country regions have shown marked improvement in key indicators of poverty, health, economy, and food, except for sub-Saharan Africa.’

‘Understanding African exceptionalism and contributing to its reduction is one of the grand challenges of sustainability science.’

— R.W. Kates and P. Dasgupta, African poverty: A grand challenge for sustainability science

Geographical determinants of poverty in Kenya
ILRI’s research article ‘Spatial determinants of poverty in rural Kenya’ finds that poverty varies significantly and spatially within provinces, with some geographical variables important for reducing poverty in certain areas and not in others. This finding suggests that pro-poor policies need to be targeted to provincial levels rather than designed for blanket application across the country as a whole.

The latter fail to address the specific causes of poverty in different geographical areas. This analysis explores links among empirical data on poverty prevalence, inequality and population density. It uses widely different types of data from many sources, including socio-economic and environmental data, and identifies many geographical factors that influence poverty within provinces.

The authors found that distance/travel time to public resources as well as soil type, land elevation, type of land use, and demographic variables were key in explaining spatial patterns of poverty.

Having identified important poverty determinants, the researchers, from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Kenya’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), World Resources Institute (WRI) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), then generated simulations to predict how changes in the levels of the various determinants would reduce or increase poverty.

ILRI scientist and lead author of the study, Paul Okwi, says:

‘Our policy simulations explored the impacts of various interventions on poverty at various locations.’

‘The results indicate that improved access to roads and improved soil fertility would significantly reduce poverty.’

‘While building roads is a long-term undertaking, improvements in soil could be made relatively quickly, with big impacts on alleviating rural poverty.’

‘Our analysis also shows that communities living in Kenya’s rangelands are likely to have the poorest access to roads and services and the poorest infrastructure in the country’ says Okwi.

Applications in and beyond Kenya
‘Developing better local-level understanding of poverty determinants, together with knowledge about how household level factors and broader national policies affect household welfare, will help policymakers and development practitioners help the poor better their livelihoods and welfare.’

‘It’s clear that combating poverty will require responses targeted to individual areas, rather than blanket responses’ says ILRI agricultural economist and co-author of the paper, Patti Kristjanson.

‘A similar study is already being conducted in Uganda and will soon be done in Tanzania. Results of the Kenya and Uganda studies are being analysed by policymakers revising the poverty reduction programs of those countries.’

Pastoral areas in greatest need
While this analysis helps explain some of the geographic determinants of poverty, there is a need to incorporate information from other data sources such as livestock and agricultural censuses, to refine the analysis.

ILRI’s Kristjanson says:

‘It’s clear, for example, that the design and implementation of effective policies to alleviate poverty among poor livestock keepers needs to be revisited.’

‘There is critical need to focus on the causes of poverty in this region’s vast pastoral areas.’

‘Policies that help build markets, health clinics and roads are critical in these areas’, says Kristjanson.

What is ‘sustainability science’?

A new scientific approach to development is emerging in think tanks in North America and elsewhere. It goes by the somewhat awkward name of ‘sustainability science’ and ambitiously aims to bring together understanding in several widely different scientific disciplines to get research used for sustainable development of poor communities and countries.

A central problem in agricultural research for development is how to scale up successes to make a bigger difference for the poor. Sustainability science aims to provide new approaches for doing just that.

A leading group in this area is located at the Sustainability Science Program at Harvard’s Center for International Development. This group is led by William C Clark and Nancy Dickson, whose studies show that several centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), including ILRI, have long been at the forefront of applying ‘research into use’ approaches.

We recommend ILRI readers look through the several articles in the Poverty and Hunger Special Feature of the USA’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) (23 October 2007), which exemplify new publications in this emerging multidisciplinary area.

ILRI and Harvard are preparing a paper documenting ILRI’s experience with this integrated scientific approach to development, which will be will be published as an ILRI Innovation Works discussion paper and posted on this website in future.

For more information see Harvard’s Sustainability Science Program website

Further information

Okwi, P.O., Ndeng’e, G., Kristjanson, P., Arunga, M., Notenbaert, A., Omolo, A. Henninger, N., Benson, D., Kariuki, P. and Owuor, J. (2007). Poverty and Hunger Special Feature: Spatial determinants of poverty in rural Kenya. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Vol. 104. No 43. pp 16769-16774.

The article, Spatial determinants of poverty in rural Kenya, is a publication of a project jointly implemented by Kenya’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) and ILRI, and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Link to the article on the PNAS website: http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/short/104/43/16769

The authors & their affiliations
Paul O. Okwia, Godfrey Ndeng’eb, Patti Kristjansona, Mike Arungaa, An Notenbaerta, Abisalom Omoloa, Norbert Henningerc, Todd Bensond, Patrick Kariukia, and John Owuora
a. International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), P.O. Box 30709, Nairobi 00100, Kenya;
b. Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), P.O. Box 30266, Nairobi 00100, Kenya;
c. World Resources Institute (WRI), Washington, DC 20002; and
d. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Washington, DC 20006

Kenya Government follows up the ILRI-Kenya poverty mapping book Volume I with Volume II, launched this week in Nairobi

Analysis of the distribution of welfare through poverty maps has become an important tool for designing poverty interventions in Kenya. In 2003, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in collaboration with Kenya’s Central Bureau of Statistics and other partners, launched the first comprehensive map-based view of poverty in Kenya (Volume1). Building on investments made by the Kenya Government in census, household surveys and geographic information, ILRI provided leadership and technical assistance in developing these poverty maps. The maps and figures in Volume I have been used by development partners and local governments to target and allocate resources in a pro-poor manner. New estimates of poverty and inequality at the constituency level—Geographic Dimensions of Well-being in Kenya: Who and Where are the Poor? A Constituency Level Profile. Volume II—were launched this week, 1 November 2005, in Nairobi.

This report, which was prepared by Kenya’s Central Bureau of Statistics in collaboration with the World Bank, Swedish International Development Agency and Society for International Development, applies a similar methodology to that used in Volume 1 to compute poverty and inequality for urban, rural and key socio-economic groups based on constituency-level data. The report also highlights how the results can be used for critical policy interventions, more specifically the Constituency Development Fund.

Details about this new volume can be obtained from the website of the Central Bureau of Statistics: www.cbs.go.ke

Click for news clippings about the book.

Daily Nation

The great divide:Kenya’s richest and poorest areas

Big variation in the levels of poverty

Poverty funds may be aiding the well-to-do

Education the key to a better life, says report

Wajir worst hit district in North-Eastern province

Sh150m grant used in fight against poverty