There’s no shortage of exciting, groundbreaking technologies that are revolutionizing agricultural development around the world. We recently attended the ICTforAg conference and were thrilled to see the innovative work of many other organizations in the field.

Take CI Agriculture in Indonesia. They are using unmanned areal vehicles (yes, drones) combined with satellite imagery and ground sensors to provide farmers with a complete picture of their farm so they can make better decisions that improve their farm sustainability and yield. While much of this technology isn’t new to the developed world, CI is adapting them to developing world challenges and creating solutions for and with local agricultural stakeholders.

What’s exciting is that a technology like this is based on real world, proven success. In this case it’s that farmers can use satellite mapping information to make more productive, more sustainable decisions about their farms. Extensive research by the International Food Policy Research Institute has resulted in numerous case studies of success, not to mention beautiful maps of farms and land cover.

We too are finding that maps can provide a wealth of information – and not just to farmers, but pastoralists. Along with CI (and countless others), we’re figuring out how to adapt technologies to local contexts to achieve similar successes.

Our groundbreaking SAPARM project, started in Ethiopia almost two years ago, helps pastoralists find greener pastures to keep their livestock alive. Pastoralists know that their herds need green pastures to survive, but when they have to trek for two weeks to find it, with direction often based on incomplete or second-hand data, the chances of actually finding those pastures is low.

By creating satellite maps that show how much green grass is in an area, and how that greenery changes over time (see below), pastoralists know which areas to avoid and can figure out the best path for their livestock, and their livelihoods.


This project has been so successful in Ethiopia that we’ve attracted the attention of Google to help us expand it to Tanzania. Right now, we’re in the process of selecting 20 communities across both Ethiopia and Tanzania to continue building on the successes achieved so far, adapting and evolving SAPARM as the technology, and the context, changes.

There are certainly many more lessons to learn, but the end goal is clear – reducing livestock deaths. Now we’re figuring out the map to get there.