Monday, February 27, 2017

Making the data revolution work in Kenya

Last week, i was invited by technoserve, an NGO looking at business solutions to end poverty, to join a meeting bringing together GIS (Geographical Information Systems) experts in Kenya from a whole range of organizations, including private sector, NGOs, government representatives, governmental organization and research both national through university of Nairobi and international (well myself and my technician).

The aim of the meeting was to support technoserve to understand better how the sector currently looks like. We discussed many bottleneck in the current systems, trying to understand how comes that so many technologies are available in location based services, and yet so little is in use. Through group discussions we found out several issues that are characterizing the Kenyan context, among  which :
  • policy and regulation are not in favor in new technologies (until last week for example Kenya had no legislation about commercial drones, and it was almost impossible to fly drones) 
  • there is a lack of awareness across all organizations and levels, mainly in the Kenyan government, which explains the lack of policies.
  • There is lack of well trained staff that can take up the challenge of new technologies
  • There is no lobby group for GIS and new technologies in Kenya (true, and this meeting was great to meet a lot of new people) 
  • There are almost no opportunities locally to keep oneself up-to-date in this fast moving world. 
group work during the workshop
What i learned from it? My work at ILRI today has nothing to do with the work i did some 3 years ago. We have moved from a data scares world into a world there data in abundance, but we do not know how to learn from it. We have moved from a static world to a very dynamic one, as new data comes in our maps have to up-date and send relevant and understandable information to decision makers. Concept of near real time, machine learning and big data are changing our jobs... it is a really exiting world... but only few of the organizations present at the meeting were aware of the on-going data revolution...
David Galaty, the project manager of innovation in outcome measurements

The project that brought us together is called innovation in outcome measurement, and aims at understanding why some technologies are available but its potential is not used... good question and guess what? was raised by Gates Foundation, that funds the overall project. Beyond this meeting, the project foresees to test the use of drones in the livestock sector, a sector that is more complex than crop (which don't move) and for which drones have hardly been used up until now. What can drone change? which livestock related businesses can it enhance? what new insights can we gain? I will hopefully be part of the team that will try to answers these questions and see how to combine data from drones with other sources to gain new insights in the livestock sector.

example of drone used for aerial photography
Once again, Gates foundation is just making it happen : giving me indirectly the opportunity to challenge the status co, push me out of my comfort zone and giving me a  space for radical re-thinking. I am exited and looking forward to take this challenge up along with technoserve.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sheep : the panty of the herd

In my last field work in Bama in Burkina Faso, we had a very long and interesting discussion with the livestock union, bringing together the association for dairy farmer, for fattening farmer and butchers.

We had a lengthy discussion with them about their cattle keeping systems and their challenges. No word was lost about goats and sheep. So we did as always, we just asked. 

We discovered that cattle keeper do not really keep goat because they have different grazing patterns. Therefore one cannot go on transhumance with cattle and goats. Also, in their understanding, if someone has goats, is complete, meaning it is a system on its own. 

However, a cattle keeper will always keep sheep. They have similar grazing pattern than cattle and therefore can be kept together. Often livestock keeper have a breeding strategy, and manage their herd accordingly. So they do not want to sell off cattle when they have a urgent money need. That's why they keep sheep : in order to have something small to sell off to pay for something unexpected, such as a family member who gets sick and one need money for health care. It is a risk management strategy that allows them to not touch their herd. "Sheep is the panty of the herd" they told us. The last thing you can strip before you have to touch you herd. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The charming feed trader!

In my last trip to Atsbi, Ethiopia, we decided to interview a feed retailer in Atsbi itsef. He was selling maize bran is locally sourced from Tigray.

sunflower seed cake
He also had cotton seed, sesame seed, sunflower seed and nug seed cake. Oil seed cakes are usually coming from Amhara region (South of Tigray) except the cotton that is grown in Tigray.
maize bran

cotton seed cake

He was mentioning that all price went up by 20% in the last month. He could not explain why. (but we know the African continent experiences a historic drought, so there must be a huge demand for livestock feed).
We also where wondering why customer would come to him rather to his competitor. He says that he can sell a whole range of concentrate, his competition would not have such a variety of products.
When we left him, we told him that we think all customer come to him, especially women, because he is such a charming men!
the feed retailer laughing at our explanation why people should buy from him...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Destocking in Atsbi : a move to more sheep?

Atbsi, in Northern Ethiopia is known for its highland sheep. Because it mainly feeds on grass it also get a special taste and therefore reaches a better market place. A special breeding program supported by the Livestock CRP (the research program i am working on) in the area is looking at improving the breed by selection. Indeed the carcass weight is 40% below its potential, meaning one could get more meat from one animal. The reason for this investment?

The bet is that destocking will take place by shifting from cattle to sheep. Really? the area has been chosen by the government for dairy production and the farmers we met in the presence of Ethiopian government representative all told us they want to have dairy (farmer 1, farmer 2)?

So we decided to stop randomly and talk to some farmer without the Ethiopian government representative. We found a farmer who was winnowing crops. We stopped and talked to him. He had a cross-breed cow and some sheep. His major challenge was fodder, and he was not convinced that his dairy cow was holding the promise of more milk. He was thinking of getting more sheep. He says that he can feed 10 sheep with the same fodder than for one cow and that seemed more profitable for him...

Will mechanization holds its promises? if yes how will destocking in Atsbi look like? More dairy? more sheep? Maybe just more specialized! A story to follow!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Destocking in Atsbi : a move to dairy production? (2)

My last post has discussed the move toward dairy production in Atsbi. We visited another farmer who also moved to improved cattle but within a settlement.

the carpenter who became a farmer
The farmer was landless (see here what this means in Ethiopia), and his wife had a job in the nearby school. He used to be carpenter but he had an accident, so had to change occupation. He had recently go the house he is living in and as he moved he had sold his sheep to buy a pregnant dairy cow that he keeps in his compound.

off-spring from his first dairy cow

He is landless but get access to 0.25 ha irrigated land, where he gets crop residue from. But he does not get access to the communal land and therefore buys crop residues, grass and concentrate for his cow.
The dairy cow in the settlement
His shed has enough space for at least two cows. So when we asked him where he will be in 5 years, he said that he will have a cow more so that he can get more income. He hopes that with this income he can move to Wucro the nearest big town, where the economy is booming.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Destocking in Atsbi : a move to dairy production? (1)

Atsbi, in Northern Ethiopia is often confronted with food and fodder shortage. One way to address fodder shortage is to have less livestock but more productive one. Moving to dairy production is one option. The goverment has even identified Atbsi as a woreda (district) where dairy should be prioritized. Not surprising as Atbsi is on a plateau and therefore is cooler and suitable for dairy.
the farmer with the Holstein dairy cow
Local breeds are not very productive for milk, therefore dairy need improved breeds. In Atsbi, cross-breed are managed and provided by the government. We visited a model farmer who had switched to dairy farming.

The irrigated lentils
The farmer had 1 acre land of which a part was irrigated. Lentils were growing on the irrigated land. In addition, she 3 cows, 100% Holstein (so not a cross breed), 1 oxen, 5 sheep, 2 donkeys and 10 local chicken. She was very happy with the dairy cow . She was feeding them with crop residue, grass, hay, but also on concentrate (mainly maize bran) that she would buy and residue from beer production. Lentils are for human consumption, only residues are given to the animals
She got training and knows well how to feed her animals. As a result, in the good season she could get 15 liters milk per cow, while in the current season she would get on 10 l. per animals.
Residue from local beer production

She would get 10 birr (0.44 usd) per litre milk, and 8birr during the fasting season. She is selling to a cooperative. With 3 cows she can get 30 liter per day, that is 300 birr that is 13 usd per day, not bad for rural Ethiopia...
Livestock coming from the water point just crossing the farm
When i asked her about what will have changed in 5 years from now, she said she will have more dairy cows, she did not mentioned the sheep.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Destocking in Atbsi : get mechanisation right

In the current reconnaissance trip to Atbsi, Ethiopia, we were thinking that we will be coming to a site with many sheep, but where we were looking we saw many cattle. We were puzzled about that fact that so many farmers kept cattle in a feed shortage area. Indeed for one cattle one could keep 7-8 sheep. So as usual we asked people about the role of cattle and sheep in this area.

Cattle and sheep grazing
We learned that most household are keeping one oxen for ploughing, and in order to always have an oxen, these household would also keep some female cow, which can also give milk.
So our discussion suddenly turned into a discourse about mechanization. If farmers could access a tractor, then they could be de-stocking, i.e. not keep the oxen but have sheep or dairy cows instead. We learned from one person working at REST (Relief Society of Tigray) that mechanization has been tried in the area but it did not work, for two reasons, one is that the spare parts are difficult to access but also the machinery was not suitable for the area. Big tractors would be too big, and a much more promising option would be two wheeler.
talking to the woreda representative
However when we talked to a representative of the district he has mentioned that mechanization is a great success in Felegewayne. Farmers got organized and managed to get 2 tractors as a cooperative and 4 others have been ordered. But we have not seen any...
landscape in Felegewayne
Our explanation was the landscape around Felegewayne must be flatter than in some other areas of Atbsi. An assumption that still needs to be confirmed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Land access in Ethiopia, or how land less is landless?

In Ethiopia, all land is owned solely by the government, and land access is regulated. After a long period of land certification, there are now many households who have guaranteed access to farming land through a 100 year land use. In Atsbi (Tigray), it is 0.5 hectare per adult, both men and women, this means 1 ha for a family. Land certification can be inherited but not split. It is customary to give it to the youngest child, who will be able to farm the land in his name. For land that is not used, for example because a family is leaving the area, the certification is returned to the government and assigned to landless people who will receive the certificate.

Community manage grazing land

This also means that all the other children do not get land and are landless. Every kebelle, the smallest administrative unit of Ethiopia runs a waiting list of landless people. These people are waiting until land is made available. With an average family size of 6 people, assuming 2 parents and four children, there will be 3 landless children in the family. Given the amount of landless, mostly young people, the government needs to find alternative livelihood opportunities.
Children on a communal grazing land
Non farming land is governmental land and this encompasses forest, river shores, grazing land. The government is therefore trying to protect the area and at the same time offer livelihood opportunities to those who do not have land. Forest areas are protected but landless people can get the right keep bees there and sell the honey. Also some river shores and degraded land are rehabilitated through mass mobilizations, i.e. every farmer who has certified land need to work for free a certain amount of time per year. Land rehabilitated is sometimes given to landless people for agriculture. This land is not certified and is not considered as farming land and the landless person has no guarantee about keeping this land. We met a family who got 0.25 ha of irrigated land through this scheme. 

Return after a mobilization day
Non-governmental grazing land is community land. As free grazing gets more and more restricted, grazing land is protected with a guard that manage access. It can be managed by the community itself and in some cases the government.
Return after a mobilization day  
It was fascinating to learn more about land ownership in a country where land cannot be owned!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Atsbi, Ethiopia : when intensification means destocking

Atsbi is a highland woreda (district) in Tigray region in the North of Ethiopia. It is the site we selected for the SAIRLA project for the Ethiopian case study area. It is a study area where ILRI has worked for many years through the LIVES project and has a strong focus on the goat and sheep value chain thanks to ICARDA.

Atbsi is shaped by the one rainy season that a bi-modal rainfall with some rain in April and the major rains in July and August.

World Clim long term average rainfall for Atbsi woreda

As it is a highland area, temperatures remain relatively low with the warmest temperature in May and June just before the onset of the rains.
World clim long term average for average temperature

From the land cover map we can see that there is mainly grassland and shrubland.
SEVIR land cover map for Absi for 2008 and 2003
The Tigray highland is known for its high population density, low soil fertility, important soil erosion and therefore is quite food insecure. It is also the area with the highest soil and water conservation investments and can present may success story of rehabilitation of land and gain of biomass.
A landscape shaped by soil and water conservation
With my colleagues, I went to discover this site and identify dynamics that might not have been talked about in the reports and stories we heart before. What we found is an area where food and fodder are almost always short. Food insecurity is recurrent and feed shortages the major challenge for the livestock sector followed by animal health consideration.

animal being sprayed with pesticides

The lack for feed and fodder pushes livestock keeper towards owning less animals, and therefore they are looking for animals that are more productive. We talked to regional and local key informant including farmer, researchers and governmental officials to understand the constraints and opportunities of this area.

A grazing area in Atsbi
We discovered that people think of their livestock sector in two systems : the urban system which is often more dairy oriented and relies on concentrate and the rural system where a mix of livestock mainly cattle and sheep are kept relying on natural vegetation and crop residue only...
Do you want to know more? Follow the journey in the upcoming weeks with the tag SAIRLA and Ethiopia.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Uncovering the potential for DHS data for livestock research

This afternoon, i gave a seminar on how to use DHS (demographic health survey) can be used to get new insights into the livestock sector in developing countries.

Go through the presentation for discovering how nutrition links with livestock ownership or if you want to know where the poor poultry keeper are!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Make the invisible visible : spatio-temporal mapping of migration

Last week, i was invited by the Danish Refugee Council to an expert panel on mapping migration. I was told : "I know we are doing many things wrong, we would appreciate to have your input on how to improve". I didn't really know what to expect, but somehow I had the feeling that it is going to be one other of these hopeless projects.

When I arrived there i actually discovered a very unexpectedly amazing project, named 4mi : across a set of European and African country, field monitors (interviewers) interviews migrants about their routes, their reason for leaving, the country they want to go but also abuses they have experiences or how many deaths they have seen along the road. There is also a survey that collects information from smuggler.

Yes, the data they collect has many issues : the representativeness of the sample, the double counting of death or abuses when two interviewed people refer to the same event. But, it is a goldmine, in a field where there is no data! Where would you look for data about a clandestine activity?

Clearly, it raises many ethical issues. Firstly, the field monitors are not all hired, so what are their rights and how to ensure their security? Secondly, the information collected, does it work in favor or against the refugee? Will it support NGO to reduce abuse of refugee or will it support government to be more restrictive?

They also produce regular info graphics with the data, as well as a set of maps. Unfortunately, it only presents the whole dataset and does not allow to subset over time, therefore not allowing for spatio-temporal analysis : a critique that was well taken and this will be probably adjusted soon.

Maybe my contribution to this whole initiative was raising the awareness that with the emergence of big data, sampling issues will become less and less important as the number of observations are increasing as well as the possibility to develop correction factors. Also i hope that i have convinced them to have a controlled free access to the raw data for the scientific community, so that they can get free insights with there data.

Maybe one day i will be analyzing the relation between livestock loss (a reason for leaving home) and migration as a response to a climatic shock? or discover new other linkages between the livestock sector and migration. It is definitely a new unorthodox source of data for livestock that is now emerging. So let's look at the emerging opportunity rather than on the some pitfalls that this data might have.

In the meantime check out the 4mi website! a clear initiative worth a follow up!