The second continental forum of GMES and Africa commenced today and will run from 6 to 10 December in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. The forum will centre on the ways earth observation (EO) can enhance environmental sustainability and socio-economic development in Africa. Furthermore, the forum includes developing methods of utilising EO services and applications to foster environmental and long-term natural resource management for human development. In addition, this forum is the second and last continental forum for GMES & Africa’s first phase.
The programme began with opening statements from several dignitaries. They included Professor Affian Kouadio, Vice President, University Felix Houphouet-Boigny. Jobst von Kirchmann, Ambassador of the EU to Côte d’Ivoire and Koen Doens, DG International Partnerships (INTAPS). The dignitaries also included Professor Sarah Anyang Agbor, AUC Commissioner for Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation, Professor Adama Diawara, Côte d’Ivoire’s Minister for High Education and Scientific Research, and Jean Luc Assi, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, representing the Ivorian Prime Minister, Patrick Achi. The dignitaries collectively welcomed, and the participants appreciated them for their presence.
In Professor Affian’s speech, he applauded the commitment of the 12 consortia to realise the GMES and Africa programmes’ goals. Furthermore, he applauded the help (both technical and financial) of partners such as EUMETSAT and ESA. he also mentioned the AfricaGIS 2021 hackathon on food security and water resources and iterated how the competition brought together 40 participants from 17 African countries.
The Professor also presented an award of recognition to Dr Tidianne and Dr Mahaman Ouedraogo to commend their effort during the implementation of the first phase of the GMES and Africa project.
After the opening remarks, Dr Mahman Ouedraogo and Dr Tidiane Outtara presented the objectives and expectations of the forum. Dr Ouedraogo discussed the progress of GMES and Africa, noting that their successes made it imperative to continue into the second phase. Dr Outtara came on to share the achievements of the project’s first phase. In data infrastructure, for example, he noted the 12 Environmental stations (eStations) and 48 operators. Furthermore, Dr Outtara pointed out the means they have leveraged to raise awareness regarding outreach initiatives, including traditional media, social media platforms, and the internet.
The first session included a keynote speech and a high-level panel discussion. The address was regarding “EO: Powering Sustainable Environment and Socio-Economic Growth in Africa”, with Dr Jane Olwoch as the speaker. Dr Jane discussed how the EO programme aligned with Agenda 2063 and the UN SDG. According to her, EO data has been leveraged
to develop solutions to prevent and provide relief for communities during natural disasters. She mentioned that the earlier problem faced during the implementation of EO data was the adoption of space-based technologies for disasters. However, with GMES and Africa, there has been an increasing adoption of Africans to leverage EO data to provide services for the benefit of all Africans.
Space in Africa’s Temidayo Oniosun moderated the panel session with the following participants: Professor Sarah Anyang Agbor, Issa Sani Mahaman, Professor Affian Kouadio, Dr Assize Toure, and Dr Jane Olwoch.
During the panel discussion, Dr Assize Toure discussed the steps taken by African institutions to capitalise on the Africa EO opportunities. According to him, EO data has contributed significantly to Senegal’s sustainable development including developing early warning and monitoring tools for cattle rearers to ensure their increased productivity. He further stated that Senegal had leveraged EO data to contribute to 4% of their GDP.
Prof Affian Kouadio spoke on universities and research institutions’ role in powering environmental sustainability and socio-economic growth in Africa. He explained that for the second phase, the emphasis would be on investing in the right capacity building to ensure that the continent produces the right talent to take charge of Africa’s sustainable development goal. He also commented that only a handful of African states have launched satellites and recommended that Africans ensure a talent pool to process the data and turn it into information.
Professor Sarah discussed integrating the GMES and Africa programme into other AUC initiatives. She explained that the GMES and Africa programme is under the Department of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (ESTI). According to her, the decision was taken by the 55 African heads of state. Furthermore, it cements the GMES and Africa programme as an important initiative to improve the continent’s sustainability. She also acknowledged that the 12 consortia were to effectively implement the project across all African regions. Furthermore, Professor Sarah addressed the ways of ensuring the continuation of the GMES and Africa after 2024. She explained that Africa must grow to a level where we domesticate our solutions. Furthermore, she noted that Africans need to take ownership of the programme after 2024. This would drive the vision of sustainable development in Africa.
The second session featured testimonials of various GMES and Africa sponsorship beneficiaries. Furthermore, over 40 master and PhD students have been funded through GMES and Africa. In addition, some of them have undergone direct internships, i.e., on the job training. However, some of them have given back to their communities by actively facilitating training and projects. These projects ranged from the contribution of remote sensing, developing integrated remote sensing technologies in wetlands, collection, processing and analysis. At the end of the sessions, some of the beneficiaries present explained how their postgraduate thesis affects and improves the African environmental, social and economic situation. The beneficiaries were also presented with certificates to commend their hard work and dedication throughout the programme.
The third session featured two segments. The first was a keynote speech on data and infrastructure. Professor George Wiafe, Director, Marine Resources Centre, University of Ghana gave this speech. There was subsequently a panel session on the same topic. Professor Wiafe noted that Africa’s growth is largely tied to building capacity and infrastructure to accommodate EO data. Furthermore, he discussed the importance of building on the milestones recorded by several space agencies in countries. Professor Wiafe also expressed a need to ensure that all African nations build the right infrastructure. This would ensure the growth and attainment of the African Union Agenda 2063. He also expressed the need to improve access to broadband internet connectivity on the continent.
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