SAPARM: finding green pastures thanks to satellite data

The User

Project Concern International is an international development organisation created in 1961 in the United States of America.  It is dedicated to preventing disease, improving community health, and positive community development. PCI reaches nearly 6 million people a year through programmes in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

The challenge

In Ethiopia, pastoralism is one of the main socio-economic resources. Almost seven million people are pastoralists dependant on water and grazing resources for their survival and livelihood. Each year they rely on traditional methods, such as traditional knowledge, oral conveyance of grazing information and scouts, to determine where to migrate their cattle, sheep, goats and/or camels to graze across areas that can cover thousands of square kilometers.  Challenging under normal conditions, climate change and its impacts on rainfall patterns have made these methods increasingly unreliable. In a study conducted by PCI in one community of Ethiopia, livestock losses averaged 21% annually with an estimated market value of €11.000.000 in total loss.

Moreover, traditional relief aid mechanisms are very slow, oriented towards relief instead of mitigation and require a degree of magnitude to be triggered that often misses the significant losses that occur in areas that haven’t been declared for emergency response.

PCI therefore looked for a way to empower pastoralists to make better decisions on migration throughout the year in the hopes of preventing the kinds of losses they were experiencing.

The satellite solution

In 2013, PCI prototyped an innovation they developed called “SAPARM” (Satellite Assisted Pastoral Resource Management) within the district of Telalak, in Afar, Ethiopia.  Funded by USAID and building of the World Food Programme’s early warning software called LEAP, PCI created and distributed customized grazing maps to pastoralist communities.

The maps are based on publicly available satellite NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) images, with accuracy down to a 10 km2 area. NDVI is a satellite-based technique which uses the visible and near infrared light reflected by vegetation to measure vegetation density and greenness. Using large scale paper maps, PCI facilitated a community process to map traditional grazing grounds which were confirmed with host communities.  These traditional grazing maps were then digitized and combined with the vegetation data (NDVI) into a single, very intuitive and easy to use map.  These SAPARM maps were auto-generated on the LEAP server and auto-emailed to designated recipients every ten days.  PCI established a dissemination protocol with the local Disaster Risk Management committee in Telalak for the distribution of these maps down through the district, sub-district and village level. Updated community grazing maps were distributed to clan leaders who then transmitted the information to pastoralists.  This amounted to roughly one ream of paper over a season with a ratio of about 1 map for every 120 households.  

The results

Within a year, 80% of the pastoralist communities in Telalak were using the satellite-based maps, and the herd mortality rate decreased by 48%. For each euro invested, over €40 of improved valued were triggered. Integrating the community in the development process was the key for a successful use of the maps. The SAPARM initiative is now supported by Google and USAID, and will be extended to ten other intervention communities in Ethiopia and Tanzania.

“This approach is unique since it takes information that was predominantly used as a tool to assess need for costly emergency relief to pastoralists after they’ve lost their herds, and adapts it for direct use by pastoralists to find pasture and prevent the loss from even occurring.  All of this for a very low cost, high scalability and potentially high impact.” Chris Bessenecker, PCI Global