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New ways of mapping the Maasai's use of land

New ways of mapping
the Maasai's use of land

Photo: Melissa B. Kirkeby Yildirim.

Assistant Professor Schultz also uses artificial intelligence within the land administration domain in order to bridge the information gap between official land registration systems and local, cultural ways in which relationships on land are conceptualised.

Most of his current work in this topic has focused on the southern part of Kenya, where the Maasai live. The problem here is that the government lacks an overview of how the land is used, and this often leads to significant problems and disputes.

“Some Maasai are nomadic. These communities live on and use the land on the basis of a system that is deeply cemented in their culture. It cannot be recorded in current land administration systems, and therefore the authorities in Kenya are unable to see how governmental decisions on land administration impact the Maasai’s use of land and way of life,” he says.

In the approach used by Assistant Professor Schultz and his colleagues, researchers ask the Maasai to sketch hand-drawn maps of their movements, and these sketched maps are used as sources of data for advanced computer analysis.

“The computer can recognise objects from the sketches - for example, the shape of a village, a water source, a particular tree or certain mountains. The computer then interprets how these hand-drawn objects are spatially related to decode distances, positions and orientations,” he says.

The researchers’ goal is to train the computer to find connections between the Maasai’s sketches and satellite pictures to obtain a complete overview of how the indigenous people use the land, in a way that can be accurately registered in the government’s land administration systems.