The Cyber Shepherds and livestock in the Sahel
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CTA. 2004. The Cyber Shepherds and livestock in the Sahel. ICT Update Issue 15. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/57643
How can pastoralists in the Sahel be helped to improve their livestock management practices and to protect their pastures from drought? Alioune Kâ describes a potential solution.
The sparsely populated Sahel, which covers roughly the same area as the continental United States, may seem like the last place for ICTs to take root. Yet the region is home to the Cyber Shepherds - livestock herders who are using GIS-based maps, global positioning system (GPS) devices, mobile phones and the web to help them manage their flocks and herds. The Sahel has long been affected by climatic changes, which force pastoralists and their livestock to be constantly on the move. During the eight-month dry season they travel south in search of fresh pastures and water supplies, and back again, in a cyclical, seasonal journey known as transhumance. The changing rainfall patterns mean that the region´s livestock sector is extremely vulnerable to the shrinking vegetation cover and increasing soil degradation. The movement of herds also frequently leads to conflicts among the migrant herders and with sedentary farmers in the more fertile south. Sustainable resource management therefore involves addressing environmental issues, and both could benefit from technological support to pastoralist communities on local, national and subregional scales. The IDRC-sponsored project ´sustainable management of pastoral resources in the Sahel´, also referred to as the Cyber Shepherd initiative, was set up in 2001 by the Ecole inter-Etats des sciences et médecine vétérinaire (EISMV) and Centre de suivi ecologique (CSE) in Dakar, Senegal. The aim of the project is to enable Sahelian pastoralists to access accurate information on grazing lands in order to help them coordinate their movements and protect land and water resources during the dry season. Project members are working closely with grassroots communities to identify innovative ways in which ICTs can be used to harness their traditional knowledge and know-how of natural resource management. dological approach The first phase of the programme focused on compiling and assessing local knowledge and practices in key pastoral units (PUs) in Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal, and on developing a range of ICT applications that would assist pastoralists in locating available grazing lands during the dry season. GIS-based thematic maps of seasonal movements of livestock in the PUs have been created in the local language in cooperation with local pastoral groups, who help to define land boundaries, identify grazing lands and assign the symbols to be used in the maps. This participatory approach has been adopted to ensure that the maps are transparent and accessible to local communities. In each pastoral unit, herders have been taught to read and to prepare geographic maps using GPS devices. These are valuable tools for monitoring the movements of herds, and for accurately pinpointing outbreaks of livestock diseases and bush fires. They also provide an efficient means of compiling inventories of water and other resources. Several herders have been equipped with mobile phones to speed up the exchange of information and provide them with early warning of impending disasters. Some have received IT training so that they can access information on the web. Computers with Internet connections have been installed in each pastoral unit, where real-time information can be accessed through a website set up for them in July 2003. The Gallé Aynabé site, nicknamed ´cyber shepherd´, offers advice on how to recognize and treat animal diseases, and brings together a wide range of local resource management knowledge and practices that can help pastoralists, such as where to guide their herds and how to resolve land use conflicts. As part of an experiment in the PUs of Thiel, Tessékéré and Kouthiaba in Senegal, maps and satellite images have been posted on the site to help monitor and evaluate the use of pastures in each unit. Pastoralists can now obtain real-time information on the status of grazing areas and their ´carrying capacity´ - the number of animals that can be pastured there during the dry season without risk to the environment and its resources. In practice, the project is facing many problems that are all too common when introducing new technologies for use in rural areas. Most local people cannot read or write, or are literate only in the local language. Sometimes connections fail because the network is down, or the power supply is out (most devices are solar powered), and the equipment is not always well maintained. These concerns will be addressed in the project´s second phase, perhaps using simpler tools and means. The complex, ever-changing nature of resource management in the Sahel means that local pastoralist communities need up-to-date information on pastures, as well as the means to evaluate this information. The Cyber Shepherd project has made this both technically and financially possible, and is clearly demonstrating the added value of ICTs in the practical implementation of pastoral development policy, and in helping to address the needs of the millions of pastoralists in the Sahel. href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org Alioune Kâ is an engineer at CSE. For more information, visit http://www.cse.sn www.cse.sn.