Land Cover Change and Woodland Degradation in a Charcoal Producing Semi-Arid Area in Kenya

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Woodlands in Kenya are undergoing land cover change and degradation leading to loss of livelihoods. Uncontrolled charcoal production, although a livelihood source for communities living in woodland areas of Kenya, leads to woodland degradation. We used Landsat imagery, field plot data and household interviews to describe land cover change and the role of charcoal production in woodland degradation. An unsupervised classification was used to determine land cover change from woodland to open/farmland, and five 16-km transects were used to investigate the extent of charcoal production in the target woodlands. Semi-structured interviews were conducted on 117 households to understand their perceptions on woodland cover change and the role of charcoal production. The overall accuracy of our classification was 86%. Woodland areas decreased by 24% between 1986 and 2014. The trend of woodland area change compared well between remote sensing and interview data. The density of kilns, a proxy for charcoal-led woodland degradation, varied across the sample plots. Despite charcoal providing a livelihood for 66% of the households, the community felt that their environment, wealth and social relations have been affected by land cover changes caused by charcoal production. Based on these results, we recommend that appropriate measures aimed at improving the productivity of agriculture, adapting to climate change and reducing dependence on charcoal for sustenance should be encouraged to mitigate woodland cover loss and degradation. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.