Friday, August 23, 2013

Better than a million of words : visualizing FAO data in gap minder

Do you love looking at columns and columns of data for hours trying to tell a story with all those numbers? Or would you love a program to do this for you?

The well known Swedish professor Rosling, known for  his amazing TED talks presents his data with the gap minder, a program that allows you to visualize three types of data at the same time across several dimensions, in a static as well dynamic way, showing the temporal evolution.

So what's new? The new gap minder has a beta version that allows to visualize the whole FAO dataset is a quick and meaningful way.

Here an example of mind gap, showing milk productivity ((kg/animal) on the left scale, versus income per person on the bottom scale, and the size of the cercle indicates total production, colors the continent and as well as the temporal evolution for selected countries. 
For example the graph above analyses milk production, per animal and in total per county over time. One an see that the US and the Netherlands have experiences a high productivity jump over the last 40 years. China and India have a much less impressive productivity gain over the same period, but the total amount of milk produced is increasing suggesting that there are more and more dairy cows in these areas. When one looks at Ethiopia, the total production as well as the productivity remained low over the last 20 years.

Also the the new version of the mind gap has also a new feature that allows to look at data in a spatial way. It is not a fancy good looking GIS solution but at least a quick way to see what is happening where.

The geographic visualization in gap minder 
The only bemol is, that the FAO data cannot yet be linked to the other datasets in gap minder, making it impossible to link FAO agricultural data with more bio-physical or detailed economic data... i guess it is just a matter of time until this will be possible.

So check it out and convince yourself! 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Setting new standarts in community based tourism in Ethiopia

On my latest trip crossing the the rift valley in Ethiopia, I stopped in Hosana, a small town off the tourist track. Thanks to my friend who new about my recent interest in tourism as rural development, this stop has become one of the most interesting on of my trip. Some 5- 6 km away, we met a rural community, which is on the point of launching new ways for rural tourism. It is a community who is going to set new standards in social tourism.

The community lodge
With the support of an NGO, the community set up a community lodge (which is registered under Ethiopian law and can legally host guests), women labor exchange organisation produce local good, which are sold to the community as well as the guest.
The community offers day program, with local food and drinks. The community can offer basket making workshops, horse riding or playing traditional games. 

A tukul from, with a traditional bed
There are also some tukuls where tourists could sleep on traditional beds. These are hard bed upon which traditional mattresses made of some local grasses are put on.  In the case there are too many tourist, then some people can stay with community members in their houses.

A beautiful traditional roof of the lodge

Traditional toilets are being build and a generator providing electricity should be installed by November. Water will be carried from local source (just as all the community member do every day).

When one talk to the representatives one feels that the community as a whole has invested a lot of energy and has a lot of hope. The community is well organised, insuring that benefits from tourism are shared among all, and that the benefit is spent based on a participatory way, insuring that community really want and bothers about (unlike donations that might not correspond to the need of the community). Visiting them is not just an experience for the tourist who can learn about traditional lifestyle and enter in close contact of what is "real Ethiopian rural life", but is a way for rural development, allowing the community to insure its future without begging or depend on aid. It is socially responsible tourism, as i have hardly found anywhere else. 

The representative of the community in the lodge
In the up-coming post, which will be labelled with inside travel, i will go into details of the benefit sharing mechanisms that have been set in place, as well as the historical background on how this project has emerged. So stay posted :-)! 

Wanna go and meet this community? Contact Inside Travel or myself!  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

how smartphones revolutionize developing countries : a reflection on the GPS training in Gondar

From my field work in Ethiopia, i learnt that getting access to GPS, setting them right and collect the waypoints (location) of farmstead was on of the most challenging tasks. It is about one year ago that my team sent out over twenty enumerators with garmin GPS, laptops and data cables, trying to collect with more or less success geo-referenced data.

On my short term visit in Gondar this week, i decided to give a one day GPS training to whom interested from Gondar University as well as the Gondar agricultural research Institute. It was a sort of open day, where I wanted to look at option of collecting data with what these people have, expecting that most of them would somehow appear to the training with a very old Garmin GPS (without batteries) and a laptop without any GIS software. I had proposed to look at QGIS and Google earth, two user friendly open source GIS software to avoid long (and illegal) Arc GIS installation, making it very realistic that each of the participant can continue his learning process from home/workplace. 

participants downloading data from their smartphones to their computer
To my big astonishment, more than half of the participants owned a fancy smartphone with GPS. Some one year ago, i was the only one with a smartphone, my original  chinese Huawei (a very cheap smartphone produced for in Kenya), but today most of the people have some much more fancy ones than my crappy china phone. 

In the end the training focused on how to use an android phone, with the app "mytracks", to collect data. How does the GPS in such a phone work? When does it go wrong? All participants then mapped out their data in Google earth, that now allows a spatio-temporal visualization of data. Honestly, it is so fancy and never before it has been so easy to collect geo-referenced data. 

A participant presenting how he has collected and visualized his data on his smartphone

At the end of the training we captured some of the reflections and lessons learnt from the training on short videos, such as the above one. You can find the whole documentation of the course and soon also the complete reflection of the training under the training webpage.