Student information

MSc thesis subject: Assessing the impact of land use and land cover changes on water availability, Mt. Elgon Water tower, Uganda

Overlapping the international boundary between Uganda and Kenya, the Mt. Elgon watershed contributes to the waters of Lake Victoria, the Nile River system, and Lake Turkana.

About 2,000 km2 of the mountain ecosystem is protected for biodiversity and water catchment by both countries [2]. The Mt. Elgon ecosystem is majorly characterised by large forest landscapes. According to [1], the livelihoods and economic activities of  about 2 million people depend on the Mt. Elgon ecosystem. The Mt. Elgon Water Tower (MEWT), Uganda is home to some of the most important biodiversity in Uganda and is also a highly productive agricultural zone, growing arabica coffee and horticultural crops. The region experiences bimodal rains  with the peak rainfall reported in the months of April to June and August to November.

The MEWT areas with dense human population rely on agriculture, livestock, forest resources, wage labour, petty trade, and small businesses for their livelihoods. Historically, the local communities have increased agricultural output more by expanding the area under cultivation (extensification) than through increasing land productivity (intensification). Combined with high population densities and shortage of arable land, extensification often translates into high levels of protected area encroachment. According to [3], [4], the Mt. Elgon soils are under traditional subsistence agriculture season after season and there is continued deforestation and soil depletion by erosion among other factors. This has led to the declining land productivity and thus eventually resulting in low levels of agricultural productivity. Besides, due to divergent values and interests, there is encroachment on the Mt. Elgon National park thus fuelling land-use related conflicts among farmers and government agencies that aim to protect the park [5]–[7]. Understanding land-use and land cover pattern as well as associated impact on hydrology and feedbacks [8] at landscape/ catchment level is paramount for contested landscapes such as the MEWT as it can facilitate a dialogue between resources actors (stakeholders) to reach consensus.

This aim of this MSc. Thesis research is therefore to conduct remote sensing of Landsat images for LULCC detection. The LULCC properties to be explored include the type, amount, temporal and spatial characteristics.


  • To map the LULC for the Mt. Elgon water tower (MEWT), Uganda
  • To assess the LULCC that have occurred in MEWT for 1980s to 2020
  • To examine the impact of LULCC on water availability in and around the MEWT.


  • Interest in land-use and land cover analysis
  • A link or connections to a relevant case study or project


  • This study can be conducted at WUR. Ground truthing for selected sites (features) to accurately validate the LULCC will be done (alongside other field work by another MSc. Student at Busitema university, Uganda).
  • The study findings and outcomes from this work will be used to explore the Forest-water-people nexus of the MEWT through serious gaming approach (for details see SESAM PROJECT) and provide useful information to environment and conservation agencies on agroforestry promotion and farmers/ stakeholders livelihood improvement thus reconciling top-down conservation policies with a bottom-up local stakeholders’ perspectives and understanding [8].


  1. A. B. Muhweezi, G. M. Sikoyo, and M. Chemonges, “Introducing a Transboundary Ecosystem Management Approach in the Mount Elgon Region,” Mt. Res. Dev., vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 215–219, 2007, doi: 10.1659/0276-4741(2007)27[215:iatema];2.
  2. S. White and F. Wanyama, “Experience in the elaboration, implementation and follow-up of forest management plans using computers, computer software and other technological packages: The Case of Mt Elgon UWA/FACE Carbon Sequestration Project in Uganda Based,” Rome, 2006.
  3. P. De Bauw, P. Van Asten, L. Jassogne, and R. Merckx, “Soil fertility gradients and production constraints for coffee and banana on volcanic mountain slopes in the East African Rift: A case study of Mt. Elgon,” Agric. Ecosyst. Environ., vol. 231, pp. 166–175, 2016, doi: 10.1016/j.agee.2016.06.036.
  4. M. Buyinza and F. Mugagga, “Economics of land degradation in mid-hills of mt. elgon watershed, eastern uganda,” vol. 1978, no. August, pp. 1–6, 2010.
  5. L. Norgrove and D. Hulme, “Confronting conservation at Mount Elgon, Uganda,” Dev. Change, vol. 37, no. 5, pp. 1093–1116, 2006, doi: 10.1111/j.1467-7660.2006.00514.x.
  6. C. J. Cavanagh, “Protected area governance, carbon offset forestry, and environmental (in)justice at Mount Elgon, Uganda,” pp. 1–62, 2015.
  7. P. Vedeld, C. Cavanagh, J. G. Petursson, C. Nakakaawa, R. Moll, and E. Sjaastad, “The Political Economy of Conservation at Mount Elgon, Uganda: Between Local Deprivation, Regional Sustainability, and Global Public Goods,” Conserv. Soc., vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 183–194, 2016, doi: 10.4103/0972-4923.191155.
  8. M. van Noordwijk et al., “Sustainable agroforestry landscape management: Changing the game,” Land, vol. 9, no. 8, pp. 1–38, 2020, doi: 10.3390/LAND9080243.

Theme(s): Remote Sensing Science; Empowering & engaging communities