Tech Navigation Aid for Herders Amid Drought, War, and Extremism

Working with a diverse team of local data analysts, project managers, digital finance experts and tele-agents, a group led by someone of the name of Orenstein has devised multiple solutions specifically tailored for herders’ requirements. These solutions have ranged from providing ways to reach vets, checking market rates for animal feed, to leveraging satellite information to identify seasonal migration paths and monitor brushfires.

A vital aspect of the team’s work consisted of closely working with pastoralist groups, empowering herders by teaching them how to collect and transmit field data on vegetation quality in distinctive areas, a crucial data point otherwise imperceptible through satellite. A notable application devised by the team provides location-specific data to herders via call center personnel.

Importantly, the leader took the initiative to regularly interact with herders and hold focus groups, ensuring information was presented in a way that resonated with their cultural understanding. One instance of this was when information about rainfall was elicited by asking them about their requirements and measurements rather than supplying them with complex mathematical data.

A herder from Senegal, Samba Ba, spoke on the effectiveness of this hands-on approach. He specifically mentioned how the leader provided them with forecasting for vegetation availability in the following year to better plan annual seasonal migrations. He explained how their collective local knowledge, customs, and habits were factored into the technological solutions, thus making it more robust and user-friendly.

The most successful utility developed by this group was the weather forecast for rural regions. The dearth of ground stations combined with satellite data being restricted to urban areas led to a lack of dependable information. The project lead figured out a way to resolve this by using coordinates of all villages in Burkina Faso and incorporating them into an API, effectively breaking geographical barriers and providing forecasts for remote areas.

The API also allowed call center staff to fetch weather forecasts for isolated pastoral zones by just clicking on their location on a map. The results are tables projecting weekly, daily, and hourly forecasts updated every three hours with fresh satellite data. One of the call center managers, Honoré Zidouemba, shared that they receive about 2,000 to 3,000 calls per day during the rainy season.

On the other hand, the World Bank’s efforts of pumping in half a billion dollars to build technological infrastructure mapping tools since 2015 has been criticized as “very technocratic”, focusing more on keeping institutions informed instead of the herders themselves. However, despite its simple and affordable design, the API tool has made the most profound impact among their technological innovations, vastly differing from the expensive applications promoted by NGOs and other development organizations.