The Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF)

Last update on March 27, 2015.

The Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF)

The Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF) was developed at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) over several years of research on land degradation and ecosystem services.

Key facts
The proof-of-concept for the LDSF was completed in the Segou region of Mali in 2008, with support from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

In 2009, the LDSF was implemented as part of the soil health component of the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS) project, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

The LDSF has become the core methodology in a number of projects with a total of 175 LDSF sites completed or in progress to date.

In the global Sentinel Landscapes Initiative of the CGIAR Research Program on Trees, Forests and Agroforestry (FTA)  the LDSF is being implemented across a range of landscapes in the global tropics.

Please cite the field guide as:
Vågen T-G, Winowiecki LA, Tamene Desta L, Tondoh JE (2015) The Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF) - Field Guide v4.1. World Agroforestry Centre, Nairobi, Kenya, 14 pp.

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Short description of the LDSF

The Land Degradation Surveillance Framework was developed as a response to the lack of methods for systematic landscape-level assessment of soil and ecosystem health. The methodology is designed to provide a biophysical baseline at landscape level, and a monitoring and evaluation framework for assessing processes of land degradation and the effectiveness of rehabilitation measures (recovery) over time.

The framework is built around a hierarchical field survey and sampling protocol using sites that are 100 km2 (10 x 10 km). LDSF sites may be selected at random across a region or watershed, or they may represent areas of planned activities (interventions) or special interest. Within each site, 16 tiles (2.5 x 2.5 km in size) are created and random centroid locations for clusters within each tile are generated. Each cluster consists of 10 plots, with randomized centre-point locations falling within a 1 km2 area. Thus, the LDSF has two (or in some cases three) levels of randomization, which minimize local biases that may arise from convenience sampling. Each plot is 0.1 ha and consists of 4 subplots, 0.01 ha in size.

Finally, the LDSF has a strong analytical framework built into it for modelling and mapping of a range of indicators of ecosystem health (see examples below). The main LDSF database is hosted at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and integrates information from field surveys, laboratory analysis (including NIR and MIR spectroscopy) and remote sensing. Mapping outputs are produced at multiple spatial scales, with fine-resolution maps produced at 5m or higher resolution, high resolution maps at 30m and moderate resolution maps at 250m to 500m resolution.

Some of the indicators that are measured as part of the LDSF

Soil health

  • Organic carbon (SOC)

    • Concentrations

    • Stocks

  • Acidity (pH)

  • Nitrogen

  • Soil fertility parameters

  • Soil texture

Soil Hydrology

  • Infiltration capacity

Land degradation

  • Soil erosion

  • Root-depth restrictions

Vegetation cover

  • Tree density

  • Shrub density

  • Vegetation structure and

  • Tree biodiversity

  • Shrub biodiversity

  • Herbaceous cover type
    and density

  • Rangeland module

    • Grass species richness
      and abundance

    • Grass perennial to annual

    • Distance measurements for perennial grasses


  • Land cover classification

  • Land use

  • Landform designations

  • Impact on habitat

  • Soil and water conservation

Key references:

Vågen T, Shepherd K, Walsh M, Winowiecki L, Desta LT, Tondoh JE (2010) AfSIS technical specifications: Soil Health Surveillance. World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Nairobi, Kenya, 76 pp.

Terhoeven-Urselmans T, Vågen T-G, Spaargaren O, Shepherd KD (2010) Prediction of Soil Fertility Properties from a Globally Distributed Soil Mid-Infrared Spectral Library. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 74, 1–8.

Vågen TG, Gumbricht T (2012) Sahel - Atlas of Changing Landscapes: Tracing Trends and Variations in Vegetation Cover and Soil Condition. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi, Kenya, 103 pp.

Vågen T-G, Walsh MG (2012) Sentinel Site Surveillance in Segou Region, Mali: An evidence-based approach to assessing land degradation and targeting sustainable land management interventions. In: Land Health Surveillance - an Evidence-based Approach to Land Ecosystem Management, pp. 115–171. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Vågen T-G, Davey F, Shepherd KD (2012) Land health surveillance: Mapping soil carbon in Kenyan rangelands. In: Agroforestry - The Future of Global Land Use (eds Nair PKR, Garrity D), pp. 455–462. Springer.

Vågen T-G, Winowiecki LA, Abegaz A, Hadgu KM (2013) Landsat-based approaches for mapping of land degradation prevalence and soil functional properties in Ethiopia. Remote Sensing of Environment, 134, 266–275.

Vågen T-G, Winowiecki LA (2013) Mapping of soil organic carbon stocks for spatially explicit assessments of climate change mitigation potential. Environmental Research Letters, 8, 1–9.

Short video from the CGIAR Climate Change and Food Security (CCAFS) research program highlighting the LDSF:


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