Potential Natural Vegetation for south-western and central Kenya

Using vegetation maps to identify the best indigenous trees to grow on farms

A tool for the selection of indigenous tree species

In many areas in the tropics with high human population pressure, original forest cover has disappeared as farmland replaces forests. Although many farmers practice agroforestry and grow trees on their farms, agricultural landscapes are dominated by exotic species whereas densities of indigenous tree species have declined drastically. The decline in coverage of indigenous tree species in human-dominated landscapes is often accompanied by lack of ecological knowledge of where these species can be grown.

On the other hand, there is a growing interest of farmers, local governments and NGOs to grow indigenous tree species to provide timber, fruit, watershed protection, biodiversity and other services previously provided by forests. But information on tree species for certain areas has not been readily available - that is, until now.

Scientists from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Kenya and the Danish Centre for Forest and Landscape Planning (FLD) have found a solution to this problem. Ecologists Roeland Kindt, Paulo van Breugel and Jens-Peter B Lillesø lead a team that adapted old vegetation maps into easy-to-use decision support tools to help identify the best indigenous trees to grow on farms.

The team first studied detailed maps developed earlier by Trapnell and other researchers. These showed the vegetation cover in the Lake Victoria Basin and central Kenya in the 1960s. The team then developed new maps (later printed at a scale of 1:300,000) showing the original vegetation cover of the entire area. Next, they compiled species lists for each of the original vegetation types and obtained information on potential functions of each species from databases, literature and herbarium specimens from the East African Herbarium.


This project has been finalized. The successor of this project was the VECEA (Vegetation and Climate change in East Africa) project, later rebranded as the vegetationmap4africa project, which is a long term collaboration between the University of Copenhagen and the World Agroforestry Centre. For legacy reasons, we keep a copy of the original data and documentation available for download (see links below). However, for most user cases, we advise to check out the vegetationmap4africa website.

1. Summary

For a short summary of the work see this pdf document. For a more detailed description, see the documents below (click on the links to open the list).

2. Documentation

  • Tutorial: Learn how to determine the vegetation type of your area of interest ( pdf
  • Kindt R, van Breugel P and JPB Lilleso. 2007. Use of vegetation maps to infer on the ecological suitability of species using central and western Kenya as an example. Part I: Description of potential natural vegetation types for central and western Kenya. Development and Environment No. 6-2007. Forest & Landscape Denmark and World Agroforestry Centre, Kenya. pdf
  • Kindt R, van Breugel P and JPB Lilleso. 2007. Use of vegetation maps to infer on the ecological suitability of species using central and western Kenya as an example. Part II: Tree species lists for potential natural vegetation types. Development and Environment Series 7-2007. Forest &Landscape Denmark and World Agroforestry Centre. pdf
  • Kindt, R , Lillesø, J-PB & van Breugel, P 2007, Comparisons between original and current composition of indigenous tree species around Mount Kenya, African Journal of Ecology, vol 45, no. 4, pp. 633-644. URL

3. Maps for printing at A3 format

Provides pdf versions of the potential natural vegetation map (suitable for print the map at A3 format)

  • Tutorial select tree species with the SpeciesSelector spreadsheet [ pdf]
  • Map sheet 1 [ pdf]
  • Map sheet 2 [ pdf]
  • Map sheet 3 [ pdf]
  • Map sheet 4 [ pdf]

4. Spatial data and species information sheets

The map has been used as input in the regional map of the potential natural vegetation of eastern Africa. For the most up to date information and data, we advise to use that map. For legacy reasons, we keep a copy of the original data available for download.

  • Species selection tool: a spreadsheet with a list of (1) the indigenous tree species per potential natural vegetation type and (2) the documented uses (products and services) of these species. xls
  • The vector map (shapefile) and spreadsheets with for each vegetation type a list of the known useful wood species. The readme file contains information about the data. If you decide to use the data, please read the conditions of use included in the zip file. zip.