Ever look for something — for what seems like forever — only to never find it?
Your car keys, your wallet, your soulmate (jk!). It’s so frustrating!
Try walking 14 miles to locate water and coming back with nothing.
That’s not an extreme example. It happens often to pastoralists in Africa.
Over 250 million pastoralists (people who raise and care for livestock as their primary economic source) try to find grazing lands for their animals every year. It’s their job to care and tend to them, after all.
But over the past few years, they’ve found it extra difficult to find green pastures for their livestock. El Niño has been in full force in the region and the extreme drought that’s resulted from it has created unbearable conditions.
How do you feed your animals if you can’t find food or water around? You keep looking.
Millions of pastoralists trek miles and miles with their herds looking for a sign of green pastures.
In the past, they’ve typically found them through word of mouth, from lessons learned in the past, or by sending people to scout out the areas in advance. But as resources are drying out and areas have already been consumed, these methods are becoming increasingly less reliable and livestock are dying from it.
Fortunately, one organization is changing that. With space.
The global development org PCI Global has created an impressive solution to this problem.
They’ve launched the Satellite-Assisted Pastoral Resource Management program (say that 20 times fast), or SAPARM for short. It has helped to save the lives of livestock and the livelihoods of pastoralists from 22,000 miles away.
Here’s how it works:
First, the organization teamed up with a pastoralist community in Ethiopia to understand and map out what the community’s traditional grazing areas have looked like.
Then, they tapped into a satellite situated 22,000 miles above North Africa (that was already there doing satellite things) to record real-time images of those same areas. They layered the community’s information with the satellite’s and were able to create digitized maps that show real-time locations of the greenest areas around.
The maps are refreshed every 10 days and printed out and distributed to pastoralists to give them a better view of what the grazing lands look like in their area.
It shows them where the best vegetation (i.e., grass) is so they save time and money and make more informed decisions on where and when to migrate.
Findings have shown that the livestock mortality in the community has dropped by 47% since people started using the satellite maps.
It also showed that 80% of pastoralists in the area are using the maps, and almost half of them say that the maps are now the single most important resource when it comes to planning for their herds. What a shift.
If you’re thinking, “Wow, that’s a great idea, PCI. Good job,” you’re not the only one. The SAPARM program has a lot of support from USAID and the World Food Programme (to name a couple) and has even caught the eye of Google, where they are working together to expand access to these maps in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and beyond.
As parts of Africa struggle through extreme drought and the effects of climate change, it’s encouraging to see solutions that can make such an immediate impact.
It doesn’t take a satellite from 22,000 miles above to see that the world is going in the right direction on this one.
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