AfriScout: The Shepherd’s Eye in the Sky

“This map has eliminated yesterday’s suffering, thirst and hunger we experienced through arbitrary scouting. It has many benefits.”

– Bakkar, African Pastoralist

AfriScout: The Shepherd’s Eye in the Sky

“This map has eliminated yesterday’s suffering, thirst and hunger we experienced through arbitrary scouting. It has many benefits.”

– Bakkar, African Pastoralist

Overview

Pastoralism remains a way of life in Africa where people migrate their animal herds in search of fresh pasture and water seasonally or continuously. Traditionally, pastoralists rely on word of mouth, indigenous knowledge, and scouting to find sustenance for their herds, often over vast rangelands that can cover thousands of kilometers. While valuable, these methods are limited in scope, timeliness, and accuracy. As normal pasture growth patterns have been upended by climate change, the inefficiencies of these methods have become more pronounced, often reducing them to little more than guesswork.

On average, pastoralists are losing over a third of their herd every year, which represents roughly $3,000 in local market value. In addition, pastoralists can spend hundreds of dollars on scouting to find pasture and substantially more on supplemental feed when pasture can’t be found. With approximately 270 million pastoralists across the continent of Africa, this represents billions in expenditures and lost resources which has a crippling effect on the health and well-being of families and communities that rely on pastoralism for their livelihood.

AfriScout: Indigenous Practices Meet Mobile Technology

afriscout

PCI is revolutionizing the way pastoralists in Africa find pasture and water for their animals using the power of satellite and mobile technology. Recognizing that data could enhance indigenous knowledge and practices, PCI created a mobile application called AfriScout.

The AfriScout app provides pastoralists with current information on water and vegetation conditions using localized community grazing maps. This data helps them make more accurate and cost-effective migration decisions, improve pasture management, and reduce the risk of herd loss.

AfriScout helps pastoralists determine where and when to migrate or if they should delay, hasten, or forgo migrating altogether to preserve the caloric expenditure of their animals. App users can now avoid degraded pastures, leaving them fallow until they have rejuvenated enough to return, helping conserve grasses. They can also monitor past forage conditions, giving them the ability to analyze climatic changes in their local areas over time.

AfriScout’s unique crowd-sourcing system of geolocated alerts enables pastoralists to enhance collaboration on land management by allocating specific areas to different herders. This system prevents overgrazing and helps pastoralists warn each other about potential conflicts, animal disease, or other matters that may impact the safety and security of their herds and their families.

So far, AfriScout has mapped over 538,000 square miles of communal grazing lands in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania where there are currently more than 11,000 registered app users. In 2019, 350 new users downloaded the app each month and, in turn, shared information with at least seven other families. AfriScout offers a free 6-month trial after which the user is prompted to opt-in and purchase an annual subscription for $20, roughly the equivalent of one goat.

The app is backward compatible with all Android operating systems, is fully functional offline, available in five regional dialects, and integrated with six mobile money operators across three countries. Since the 2017 beta release, PCI has made several user-driven improvements. The latest release displays vegetation and surface water resolution of 10 meters and simultaneously reduces the data burden to only 20kb per map update (down from 600kb), allowing cheaper and faster downloads on unstable 2G networks.

Our Impact

AfriScout helps pastoralists manage their risk of herd loss in a variety of ways. The app:

  • Aids in the timing and destination of migration
  • Helps with collective and informed migration decision making
  • Improves pasture conservation and management

A three-year study by Fordham University found that every cow that transitioned from ‘poor or moderate’ conditions to ‘good’ condition (or vice versa) represented a $194-$264 change in market value. Every sheep or goat transitioning from ‘poor or moderate’ to ‘good’ condition represented a $20-$40 change in market value.

App users have reported AfriScout has helped reduce livestock loss and lessened conflict with host communities, which has made a significant impact on livelihood and food security within the region.

Originally distributed and tested as paper maps, PCI conducted four separate studies over the last five years. Results have consistently found that the maps have a positive impact on migration decisions, herd conditions, and conflict reduction.

Aggregate results show:

  • Over 80 percent of users claim that migration decisions were significantly impacted since using the maps.
  • Over 50 percent of users stated that the maps are now their most important resource for migration decisions, which include where and when to move herds along with how many animals to move.
  • Nearly 100 percent of users found the maps to be accurate or very accurate.
  • Over 75 percent of users found using the maps saved time, reduced scouting, reduced livestock deaths, and improved livestock conditions.

Learn More

Voice of America News reports on benefits of AfriScout in northern Kenyan village

In Kenya’s Bebisa Village, Ali Gufu and his companions lead a herd of camels from a watering site to a grazing camp. The 42-year-old father of three inherited nomadic pastoralism from his forefathers, but he cares for his animals with a 21st century tool – a smartphone app called AfriScout.

Al Jazeera’s Earthrise Series Features AfriScout

A quarter of a billion nomadic herders across Africa are experiencing significant changes in weather patterns that are jeopardizing their ability to find pasture and water for their herds. Watch how a pastoralist in drought-stricken Kenya is using the map service to adapt to climate change.

Where We Are

3 Countries
33 Mapped areas
511,709 km2 of traditional grazing land

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