Techtip: Africover Software Family

John Latham
Craig von Hagen

The Africover Software Family is a powerful suite of tools for land cover mapping that is free and easy to use.

The natural resources of many African countries have come under severe strain in recent decades from both human and climatic pressures. In order to develop strategies to deal with climate change, develop environmental planning systems and construct effective early warning and disaster prevention and management networks, it is vital to have acesss to land cover maps (maps of the physical ‘stuff’ found at the surface of the earth – plants, trees, bare land, water, human constructions, etc.) and spatial databases.

The Africover project was established by FAO’s Environment and Natural Resources Service (SDRN) in response to a number of national requests for the development of reliable georeferenced information on natural resources. While a great deal of remotely sensed data is available, there remains a shortage of country-wide, regional and sub-regional quantitative and qualitative information on vegetation cover and current land use.
The Africover project fills this gap by developing such digital georeferenced databases on land cover for the whole of Africa and making it available at no cost to the user.


So far, the project has produced Multipurpose Africover Databases on Environmental Resources (MADE) for ten countries - Burundi, DR Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, the Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
MADE is produced at a 1:200,000 scale (1:100,000 for small countries and specific areas).

With MADE, users can:

  • visualize and browse public domain data through the Africover interactive web maps;
  • download public-domain geographic layers (requires free registration);
  • download the data warehouses for free, interactive desktop GIS use; and
  • consult the metadata on the content and characteristics of the data sets.

Beyond this, the project has developed a suite of mapping tools that are appropriate for the continent, enabling the structuring, developing, and querying of the spatial environmental databases.

Africover Mapping Tools

This software suite is divided into a pair of tools for land-cover database development: - LCCS and GeoVIS.

LCCS (Land Cover Classification System)

LCCS is free, user-friendly software that allows users to create their own land-cover legends compliant with the FAO - UNEP international standard, use them for land-cover mapping directly in GeoVIS, or export them to common file formats such as Excel, HTML, and Access.

GeoVis (Geographical Vector Interpretation System)

GeoVis is a vector-based editing system designed for thematic interpretation. It speeds up mapping activities based on remotely sensed data. It is also a user-friendly vector drawing and editing system, offering topological functions and advanced capabilities of raster management and a direct link with LCCS. It produces classified vector maps that can be exported to ArcView (a popular GIS programme) for further GIS-based manipulation or modelling. The GeoVis software is free for UN Agencies and organizations and national institutions dealing with the FAO.

The Africover software suite and databases, along with manuals, interactive web maps and public domain geographic layers are available for free download from the Africover website.

John Latham is the GTOS/ GLCN coordinator.

Craig von Hagen is a consultant with the FAO-GLCN/ Africover Office.

15 February 2007

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