Helping Pastoralists Identify Grazing Areas 

Most pastoralists in Africa rely on three methods to make critical decisions on where to migrate with their herds during the dry season: previous experience or indigenous knowledge; sending scouts; and oral communication. The accuracy of these methods can mean the difference between survival and devastation in drought and non-drought years alike. 

With climate change, seasonal and spatial climate patterns are changing, making the use of indigenous knowledge and oral communication (which can also be based on indigenous knowledge and/or incorrect information) less and less reliable. As a result, pastoralists are increasingly relying on scouts – which are expensive and slow. 

Numerous studies have shown that large reductions in herd size quickly plunge pastoralist households– even previously self-sufficient ones– into chronic destitution and food insecurity. Ensuring that pastoralists are better able to manage drought risks is critical to the long-term development and economic growth of many countries. 

About SAPARM: Connecting Climate Information With Those Who Most Need It

Through the Satellite Assisted Pastoral Resource Management (SAPARM Initiative), Project Concern International (PCI), in partnership with the World Food Programme and the Disaster Risk Management and Food Security Sector (DRMFSS) of the Ministry of Agriculture, is piloting the use of custom grazing maps developed through the Livelihoods, Early Assessment and Protection Initiative (LEAP) platform. These maps  help pastoralists make better migration decisions in the face of increasing drought risks.

The project leverages existing early warning channels, which were primarily set up for the upward flow of information from the communities to the regional and national authorities.  Reversing this flow, SAPARM returns information  downward to the community.

SAPARM is one example of how WFP is supporting the implementation of the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) on the ground, by bringing agro-climate information directly to those who need it most: pastoralist households in remote, drought-prone regions. 

How SAPARM Works

The idea behind SAPARM is simple: to provide LEAP-generated satellite images of vegetation cover to pastoralists, to help them identify good grazing areas and make better decisions on where to take their herds during droughts. 

Through SAPARM, vegetation maps are distributed to pastoral clan leaders every ten days. 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. 


Building On The Livelihoods, Early Assessment And Protection Initiative

SAPARM builds on Ethiopia’s national food security early warning system, known as LEAP (Livelihoods, Early Assessment and Protection).

LEAP was been created in close cooperation by WFP and the government of Ethiopia to provide seasonal assessments of the number of drought-affected people. The data in LEAP forms the basis of the SAPARM maps. SAPARM uses a participatory process with communities to identify specific grazing areas, digitizes those maps and overlays them with NDVI data based on the LEAP architecture.  

Maps are generated, updated and emailed automatically every 10 days and then shared with pastoralists to help them identify suitable grazing areas. These include only areas that have been identified through community participatory mapping exercises as traditional grazing grounds for that particular clan, to avoid conflict with other clans. 

Impact To Date: Saving Energy,Time and Money

A year into the project, results are extremely encouraging: pastoralists not only use and trust the vegetation maps, it also seems that these maps are helping them reduce their livestock losses.  Even though the ratio of maps to households was 1:120, 78% of those households said they used the maps for migration decision-making and the majority identified the maps as their most important resource for decision-making.  Moreover there was a 47% drop in herd mortality.

The Potential For Global Impact

There are an estimated 225 million pastoralists and agro-pastoralists in Africa, representing about a quarter of the continent’s population. Yet there currently exists no system to provide them directly with reliable, easily understandable weather and rangeland information, tailored to their decision-making needs. 

While specific levels of access to information and dissemination mechanisms vary from country to country, pastoralists around the world share the common challenge of limited access to the most up-to-date and precise information on grazing conditions and locations. Successful integration of geo‐spatial data within local communication networks could impact millions of people in Africa and beyond.

PCI, in partnership with the Government of Ethiopia and WFP, is scaling-up the SAPARM project to other pastoral regions of Ethiopia with support from the US Agency for International Development and Google. As the project expands throughout the country, a priority is to ensure its full ownership by national and regional/district government authorities. This is key to ensuring the project’s effective scale-up and sustainability.