A blended census and multiscale remote sensing approach to probabilistic cropland mapping in complex landscapes

Issamaldin Mohammed, M.T. Marshall*, C.A.J.M. de Bie, Lyndon Estes, A.D. Nelson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
51 Downloads (Pure)


Remote sensing data are used to map the extent of croplands. They are especially useful in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) where landscapes are complex and farms are small, i.e. less than two ha. In this study, a hierarchical remote sensing approach was developed to estimate field fractions at 30 m spatial resolution in a highly fragmented agricultural region of Ethiopia. The landscape was stratified into crop production system (CPS) zones with ten-day SPOT Proba-V 1 km normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) composites. The CPS zones were used to disaggregate agricultural census statistics to 1 km field fractions and mask “wet” and “dry” seasons. Long-term average wet-dry season NDVI and topographic information derived from 30 m Landsat-8 (OLI) surface reflectance and the SRTM digital elevation model were combined with 1 km field fractions in a Generalized Additive Model (GAM) to produce the field fractions. Sample dot grids were manually interpreted from very high-resolution DigitalGlobe imagery on the Google Earth platform for training and testing. The model yielded an Area Under the Curve (AUC) of 0.71 and R 2 of 0.65 in the holdout sample set. The high AUC reveals the model was effective at classifying 30 m pixels as “crop” or “not crop” while the high R 2 indicated leveraging at the extremes (100 and 0% probability), meaning at 30 m resolution, subpixel variations were difficult to discern. The improved model skill compared to previous cropland mapping studies using GAMs can be attributed to the stratification and decomposition of the Landsat time series using CPS-defined phenology. Additional remote sensing model inputs, such as Sentinel-1 radar backscatter and Sentinel-2 red-edge reflectance, could provide additional explanatory power. Wall-to-wall national coverage for agricultural production estimation or other food security related application could be achieved by manually digitizing additional sample data in other regions of Ethiopia or using existing crowd-sourced databases, such as Geo-Wiki.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-245
Number of pages13
JournalISPRS journal of photogrammetry and remote sensing
Early online date29 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • Agricultural production
  • Landscape stratification
  • GAMs
  • NDVI
  • Proba-V
  • Landsat
  • 2023 OA procedure

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