Ethiopia has reduced herd mortality in pastoral communities by 47% by combining local knowledge with satellite mapping. In the face of a widespread drought, a participatory mapping process crowdsources information about where nomadic herders farm, and create satellite maps that show vegetation coverage of the same locations. These are distributed to communities every ten days and used by farmers to inform decisions about where to take their flocks to graze.
Results & Impact
Around 78% of households in participating communities said they used the satellite maps to make decisions about grazing, and a majority named it as their most important source of information. Herd mortality in participating communities was reduced by 47%
Project Concern International, World Food Programme, Government of Ethiopia Livelihood, Early Assessment and Protection Programme (LEAP), Ethiopia Ministry of Agriculture Disaster Risk Management and Food Security Sector, Google
A participatory knowledge sharing process gathers information on grazing lands from local communities, which is digitised and combined with satellite data on vegetation coverage gathered using infrared light reflected from plants. The maps are mailed to community leaders and shared with farmers, who use the information to make better decisions on where to graze their animals
Cost & Value
USAID recently awarded SAPARM $1.3 million to expand the project and Google is partnering with $750,000
Running since 2013
The project plans to transfer the mapping tool to a smartphone-based app, which at present won't be accessible to all nomadic herders, some of whom do not have smartphones. Within three years, however, it's estimated that the expansion of mobile technology will mean an app-based tool is more accessible to the general population
The project has now been rolled out across more of Ethiopia and has now also been extended to pastoral communities in Tanzania.
Ethiopia has thrown a lifeline to its agricultural sector and decreased herd mortality by 47%, with a crowdsourced mapping project that tells farmers where they can find fertile grazing pastures.
The Satellite Assisted Pastoral Resource Management (SAPARM) project combines information gathered from farming communities across Ethiopia with satellite mapping technology, providing up-to-date, accurate information about the best areas for flocks to graze.
For centuries herders have relied on traditional methods to scout out grazing land. But climate change drought mean these methods can’t be relied on. Pastoralists may walk for days and find only arid ground, and their animals are dying as a result. Large-scale herd loss is devastating for farmers: Ethiopia’s ministry of agriculture estimates that 7.5 million people require immediate support to continue with the agriculture they depend on for survival.
Chris Bessenecker, Program Director of major partner Project Concern International, said he was working in Ethiopia’s 2006 drought when he realised pastoralists relied almost entirely on indigenous knowledge and word of mouth in choosing where to graze. “You’re talking about thousands of kilometres of grazing land, so it’s literally impossible to know what’s going on,” he explained. “Even before climate change it was very difficult. There’s always a level of unpredictability.”
SAPARM better equips farmers to respond to the critical changes in the world around them. Information about grazing areas is gathered using a participatory process, with attention on territorial boundaries to avoid invoking tribal tensions, then digitised and overlaid onto publicly available satellite maps. These contain detailed information about the density and greenness of vegetation, collected using a Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) technique that measures the infrared light reflected by plants, which is accurate to 10 square kilometres. Maps are generated, and mailed to community leaders, every ten days.
After a year, indicators suggest the project is having a positive impact. Around 70% of households said they used the maps when deciding where to take their flocks, and a majority said it was the most important source of information on grazing locations. The high proportion is despite the small ratio, 1:120, of maps to households.
The project is a collaboration between the Ethiopian government and international partners, including Project Concern International, the World Food Programme and USAID, which contributed $1.3 million for expansion of the program. It’s also been funded by a Google partnership to the tune of $750,000.
With the drought situation in Ethiopia, knowledge passed through generations or farmers’ own rich experience of seasonal patterns is no longer enough to keep pastoral farming sustainable. The crisis in the surrounding region is now threatening some 35 million people with hunger and demand for innovative solutions that can better prepare people to deal with the crisis is critical. Already mapping resources are being produced in Tanzania, and the government of Ethiopia is scaling up the project to apply to other areas of the country too.
“We want to revolutionise migration decision making,” Bessenecker said. Farmers will use the app to share information, about predators in the area, for example, or to see real-time monitoring of the water level in key locations. Planners also hope the tool will prove so useful that it will become self-sustaining, with farmers paying for it after a six month trial. “If it’s valuable, then there’ll be a willingness to pay,” Bessendecker said.