Ethiopia pastoralists

Never before has the world experienced such significant progress in human development, and at the same time seen such rapid and unpredictable changes in the forces that affect it.

The U.S. Agency for International Development and its partners are embracing and evolving with these changes in order to be effective in supporting sustaining development by creating the space in which to evaluate and better understand key development trends is essential to adapt to the rapid transformations in the development landscape.

The Frontiers in Development Conference, held this week in Washington DC, engages the smartest, most innovative and experienced thought-leaders and practitioners around the world in order to seize pivotal opportunities and leave behind generational legacies of success.

At the conference’s Innovation Marketplace, PCI’s innovative program in Ethiopia, initiated in August of 2013, is being highlighted. The Satellite Assisted Pastoral Resource Management, or SAPARM, pilot is led by PCI in collaboration with the World Food Program and Ethiopia’s Disaster Risk Management and Food Security Sector and is funded by USAID.


Here’s a summary of this program:

There are over 6 million pastoralists or herdsmen in Ethiopia who need pasture for their livestock. What we saw happening in Ethiopia is a pastoralist would travel for weeks looking for pasture on tips and hunches, only to lose his flocks and livelihood to the harsh climate when it turned out the tip wasn’t true.

So we started looking for solutions at PCI.  After extensive research, we found many pastoralists in Africa rely on the same methods for determining where to go to migrate: (1) Previous Experience/Indigenous Knowledge; (2) Scouts and; (3) Oral communication. As climate is becoming less and less predictable, these methods are becoming less and less reliable. Scouts are their best insurance, but the problem with scouts is that it is costly in time and resources.

Then keep in mind there are over 200 million pastoralists in Africa.  It’s a problem throughout the continent. According to the pastoralists the number one cause of herd death is the ability to find adequate pasture.

We thought there must be a better way – a way that would be proactive, build on existing customs and practices and pushing decision-making down to the community—and that’s what we do best at PCI.

Enter a satellite called Meteosat 10, 22 thousand miles above north Africa. It’s basically a big camera that captures visible and infrared imagery including water and vegetation data every 15 minutes.

Now our offices in Ethiopia have access to the data that indicates the severity of drought, quantity of rainfall, and vegetation data.  So we set out to get that into the hands of the pastoralists so they could make sound decisions.

PCI received funding from USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures initiative to pilot a program to get this information into the hands of pastoralists. Maps would be customized to cover only the traditional grazing grounds of a community in question – to avoid encouragement of movement outside their areas.

After surveys and focus groups in one community, almost 80% of the respondents stated that they used the “vegetation maps” as at least one of their sources to make decisions on where to send their animals. Livestock mortality rates of livestock dropped 48%, and that’s with no significant difference in rainfall for the period of study.

Here’s what we learned:

– SAPARM had a high use.
– It was highly valued as a tool for finding pasture.
– Lack of pasture is the number 1 cause for mortality.
– Many believe it can contribute to survival and animal health.
– We saw a huge decrease in mortality.