Sunday, August 28, 2011

the desperate need for more Geographical Information System

In Ethiopia and many other countries in the world, many agricultural policies are promoted as sort of "blanket" approaches, despite of the fact that agriculture is crucially location specific, driven by soil, rainfall and temperature. One way of getting more location-specific in policies is to be able to manage and analyze data in a spatial way with so called Geographical Information Systems (GIS). The increasing need for GIS is now recognized, at least in my project for which I gave a GIS training a the regional agricultural research institute in Bahir Dar. 
Introduction to GIS given by the trainers from the reseach institute
Participants learning how to use a GPS
Participants puzzled by one of 

Participants were coming from the local research centers, were relatively young and above all enthusiastic about learning how to use this seemingly complicated program called ArcGIS. It was so hard to push people out of the computer room and convince them to go for lunch (this despite of the fact that we had booked the Lake Shore resort, one of the nicest place in town). Every participant felt so privileged to be allowed to learn how to use GIS...
During my stay i also met people from GIZ (the German development cooperation). One of their objective is to delineate watersheds and work in close collaboration with the agricultural bureaus. They also got the task to train 190 people on GIS. 
Finally, I met a student in her second year in land planning. Each program like that in Europe would start with an introduction to GIS, but she did not know what I was talking about.
The view from Lake Shore Resort, a small paradise on earth to forget about GIS for the lunch hour...
At the end of my two week stay in Bahir Dar, i just realized that people start to understand the urgency of understand how location matters and create a huge demand for GIS in the area. A demand is too big to be addressed overnight. But there is an obvious need to make GIS training available and affordable to people. Therefore, the partner I have been working with for the GIS training will continue training more people based the developed training and build up a pool of trainers. In this manner, the training will not depend on me, a foreigner anymore, but fully passes in the hand of local partners and hopefully this initiative will spread GIS knowledge around Ethiopia. 
But one question stays : why are we still teaching ArcGIS which license costs about 1400 dollar per year, when we could teach open source software (free software)? This is mainly because our partners wish to be trained on ArcGIS and probably lack of information about open source software.
I recently met a young man, campaigning for open source GIS teaching open source GIS for almost for free. He is running an NGO to increase GIS knowledge in Africa
In the end, the software does not matter as much as the fact that there is a huge need for understand what spatiality means and how we can come up with more location specific knowledge. Both my training, and the training offered by mapping across borders is just a drop of water on a hot stone... 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

innovative solutions to fight hunger

In my last post I spoke about what really makes sense to support people that face hunger, but i did not have any concrete example. Here is a great speech with concrete examples of what can work and how.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

donations for the victims of the drought?

Images from the droughts in the Horn of Africa still go rounds the world, whereas I am writing the blog post in the pouring rain in Addis.
Some people have asked me if i would know a small local NGO to which one could donate to support the victim of the droughts. 
I honestly think that immediate emergency help should pass through big well known NGOs. One should never forget that Somalia and its borders to neighboring countries Kenya and Ethiopia are considered as unstable or even war zones. If I understood correctly from the news, only the Red Cross is getting access to Somalia.

But before donating one should think about what makes really sense. Many of the people who are fleeing hunger theses days, come from an areas for which all climate model predict more and more droughts. It is an area which simply does not have the capacity to feed all the people. By saving the children from hunger, don't we just create the army of tomorrow? Isn't it very hypocritical that societies that mostly contributed to climate change do just send food for their good conscience without addressing the problem at its root? Though I do not wish to any child to die from starvation, I do not wish any youngsters to be involved in the "primitive" African wars were people just kill with knives in 10 years from now... 

True solutions lie in finding ways to improve food security to those people whose livelihoods depend on agriculture in marginal areas as well as improving market access and information to bring food from excess regions to deficient regions. Research institute like ILRI or IWMI are trying to understand what really makes a change to people in marginal areas and suggest to donors and NGO what to do. But in the end, we will never know what really works unless we have tried...

During my relatively short stay here, i met people from three different NGOs which work made senses to me and was well back up with research. I have not checked any of the project on the ground but at least from a project perspective it makes sense.  First is Menschen für Menschen a German based organisation. The coordinator for Ethiopia is a Swiss who has worked here more than 30 years. Their projects involve farmers also in marginal areas, and their objectives are to improve agriculture in a sustainable way and increase water access. They are also involved in a emergency relief action in Ethiopia. Menschen für Menschen is also involved in linking up with research. There action really makes sense, as they are involved in this country for many years to improve agriculture. You can find all the detail under :
Secondly an NGO that impresses me a lot is IDE, international development entreprise. They are not involved in the emergency relief but they use water an entry point and make use of market forces to create water access. In Ethiopia, this NGO is involved in drilling well and providing a warehouse (= creating a input market access) for all the tools needed for the wells and the pumps (spare parts). IDE is a NGO that is directly partner in implementation in some IWMI (international water management institute) projects
Finally Oxfam (US and Canada) seems to be seriously evolved in improving food security, and one of their intern is now based at IWMI to improve the link between research and development. 

One of the reasons why Ethiopia is not doing as bad as Somalia, is that the Ethiopian government has improved it drought management and implemented safety net programs.
Aid can make a difference to the victims if it is well done. But when you donate, make sure that you donate to  an organisation that will not just run away after the famine, and that is truly involved in improving agricultural based livelihoods, namely by promoting sustainable agriculture or improved water access over the long term. The three organisations mentioned above made sense to me and are working in Ethiopia for a long time, but I am sure that there are others, also in Kenya.
 So if you are thinking about donate, do it, but never stop questioning!