This blog was originally published in the Huffington Post as part of the P3 Impact Series, highlighting the work of finalists of the P3 Impact Award. The P3 Impact Award recognizes highly effective public-private partnerships that have led to positive social impact.
By Chris Bessenecker
The scorching, hot sun beams on the dry, arid landscape in Ethiopia’s drought-hit Somali region, as a nomadic pastoralist, his family, and emaciated livestock roam in search of grazing land and water.
This image is etched in my memory.
Ten years ago, Project Concern International (PCI) dispatched me to Ethiopia in response to an emerging drought when I met a pastoralist, his family, and their livestock traveling through one of the most rugged and challenging regions of the world. They had been wandering for 14 days, and had arrived at the barren location where our paths crossed, based on the word of a fellow clan member that recalled there was pasture in that location. Just like the land around them, the herd was emaciated, struggling to survive with little to no vegetation or water. Without green pasture, their animals would soon die.
Each year, more than 250 million pastoralists in Africa will seek grazing for their herds using a combination of low-tech methods. They rely on their own indigenous knowledge, word-of-mouth, and scouts to predict where there might be available grazing lands.
Due to climate change, altered land use and other factors outside of their control, these methods alone are becoming increasingly unreliable resulting in more extensive searches, more failure, and increased death of livestock. Inaccurate, delayed or limited information can be devastating, with irreparable losses that have immediate and long-term consequences for their livelihoods, well being, and even survival.
Conventional wisdom has suggested that if pastoralists cannot find adequate pasture within their traditional grazing grounds at any give time, its because its dried up or already consumed. Three years ago, PCI worked with USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures to create the Satellite-Assisted Pastoral Resource Management (SAPARM) initiative to provide pastoralists with digitized satellite maps, showing the relative density of vegetation within their traditional grazing areas. The vegetation data is derived from satellite data and the communities develop the delineations of grazing areas themselves. We sought support from the Government’s Disaster Prevention and Food Security Sector and World Food Programme’s Climate Change Bureau to derive that data using a platform using by the government for monitoring agricultural conditions.
Distributed every ten days, SAPARM-generated maps provide a bird’s eye view of their grazing lands, clearly displaying areas of viable vegetation so pastoralists can make more informed, timely decisions on where and when to migrate.
During the pilot, we witnessed a 50 percent reduction in livestock loss and almost 80 percent of pastoralists used the maps in decision-making for migration. More than half said it was their most important source of information. Through this effort, we have challenged the conventional wisdom demonstrating that often times pasture does exist but that it requires continuously updated, reliable information in order to find it.
The program caught the eye of Google.org who supported the project with a $750,000 investment, and USAID DIV provided another $1.3 Million to expand the program in Ethiopia and now into Tanzania.
We are now testing different methods of disseminating the maps, including autonomous local printing and mobile distribution via WhatsApp, an alternative text messaging application. To reach even more pastoralists, we’re creating a SAPARM mobile application to include user geolocation and also displaying surface water as small as ten meters in diameter with the help of our digital integration partner – a small Dutch company called Hoefsloot Spatial Solutions.
ust as Africa witnessed a massive expansion of mobile phone usage in the last decade, we believe we are at the cusp of another transition from feature phone to GPS enabled smart phones. Based on the current trajectory, GSMA predicts smart phones will overtake feature phones as the dominant mobile device sold on the continent by 2020.
Through the SAPARM initiative, we’re witnessing the important role the private and public sector plays as a crucial partner in helping to address global challenges. The newest technologies and products are helping to vastly improve emergency response and the overall quality of life for millions of people.
The unique partnership continues to grow and witness incredible live-saving results through innovative digital applications. We’re addressing a critical need in Ethiopia and also Tanzania, working with the Government of Tanzania’s Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development.
By working together with key public and private partners, we’re optimizing modern technology fused with local knowledge to solve one of the most pressing development challenges – and driving sustainable solutions to prepare vulnerable communities to adapt to changing climates.
Chris Bessenecker is Vice President, Strategic Initiatives for PCI.