For thousands of years, the life of a pastoralist in Africa has barely changed. They travel from one place to another to find water and pastures for their herds, and to find markets that offer good prices for their animals — using traditional routes which they and their ancestors have used time and time again.
But what happens when these routes are no longer abundant with pastures and fresh water due to climate change? What happens when conflict makes it too dangerous to travel traditional journeys? Or if encroachment of farm land leads to enhanced fragmentation of grazing areas?
Knowing where best to travel with their herd is crucial for the livelihood of a pastoralist. However, this information is usually passed on by word-of-mouth and can sometimes be inaccurate or limited in its geographical reach.
This is where satellite and mobile technology can come into play, bringing the pastoralists' traditional way of life well into the 21st century.
Through a public-private partnership between government and telecoms companies, SNV provides pastoralists with innovative information services that are based on a combination of satellite, land use, weather and market data. Data includes the availability of water and pasture resources, the herd density at these locations, weather warnings, market prices and advice on animal health and whether to move, sell, or restock their herd.
The data will provide instant access to up-to-date information along the different routes pastoralists move their livestock. Available for the price of an SMS, this information is sustaining traditional transhumance, decreasing food insecurity and reducing conflict over resources. It is expected that pastoralists will see livestock mortality reduced by 15%, livestock productivity improved by 10%, and income from livestock sales increased by 10%.
At the moment, SNV is working with no less than 75,000 food producers in Mali, and with 100,000 pastoralist households and 200,000 farmer households in Burkina Faso to provide access to this modern technology.
By adding a sprinkle of modernity to this age-old profession, we hope to see pastoralism not only become resilient to climate change but also become more sustainable. How this will play out, we are not entirely sure. It has never been done before at such a scale. But we have to try out all options before it is too late. And if mobile technology can keep us connected through the likes of Facebook and Instagram, it may also be able to play a role in the survival of the pastoralist way of life.