A program is being tested that provides satellite maps of land traditionally grazed by cattle owned by pastoralists in Ethiopia.

By Tom Murphy |

El Niño combined with climate change has caused major problems for millions of people. Residents of eastern and southern Africa have been particularly hit hard. As many as 36 million people across the two regions are facing hunger. A new warning by a group of 23 NGOs in Somalia says the country may slip back into the deadly famine of 2010. In Ethiopia, more than 10 million people are in need of critical food aid, according to the World Food Program.

(PHOTO© EU/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie)

(PHOTO© EU/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie)

As the problem persists and warnings emerge every few weeks, one simple technology is aiding Ethiopia’s pastoralists – maps. A program is being tested that provides satellite maps of land traditionally grazed by cattle owned by pastoralist groups. They help communities identify where to go and potentially reduce cattle loss and improve food security.

“Food aid is important and necessary, but it is not going to bring back their livestock or improve their livelihoods,” said Chris Bessenecker, vice president of strategic initiatives at Project Concern International, in an interview with Humanosphere. “Passing out a paper map is less expensive than handing out bags and bags of food, and potentially more cost-effective.”

Traditionally pastoralists will send out scouts to see if the land is suitable for grazing. Decisions are based on what worked in prior years and information spread by word of mouth. Those scouts will return home or call to share the status of their location. That collected information is then used to either send the scouts to new locations or determine where to graze. It is a slower process that can cost valuable time when food is scarce for livestock and some grazing areas are as big as 21,000 square kilometers.

The satellite-assisted pastoral resource management program run by Project Concern provides pastoralists with maps that show which areas are better than others. Community leaders consult the maps and then dispatch scouts to the areas for confirmation. It saves time and helps leaders make better decisions.

Continue reading this story on Humanosphere
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