Interview with the Executive Director of ESIPPS, Dr Jane Bemigisha

The Executive Director of ESIPPS, Dr Jane Bemigisha.

Environmental Surveys, Information, Planning and Policy Systems (ESIPPS) is a Ugandan company focused on applying geoinformation science and Earth Observation (EO) coupled with research, consultancy and capacity development in environmental surveys, environment information, environment impact assessment, planning and policy. ESIPPS was privileged to be selected as an institutional partner working with the East African consortia to achieve the mandate of the GMES and Africa Programme.

Space in Africa had a chat with the Executive Director of ESIPPS, Dr Jane Bemigisha, to learn more about the company’s operations and services. 

What is ESIPPS known for?

When ESIPPS was set up, we focused primarily on environmental impact assessment, documentation and profiling. Over time, we have grown to become one of the leading EO and geoinformation system companies in Uganda, and we are working our way to be the best in East Africa and the entire continent. Also, we extend our offerings to the last mile (end-users) – farmers, fishers and pastoralists to ensure that our solutions are leveraged to make better decisions. We design our packages to accommodate both the operators working at the grassroots and the ones managing the resources at the local and international levels. Some of our services and notable projects include:

  • Rangeland seasonal monitoring and early warning assessment in Eastern Africa

Alongside the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), we implemented a rangeland monitoring and assessment methodology and a functional rangeland early warning system using EO data, such as remote sensing data and satellite imageries. 

Rangelands are vital resources for livestock development but are currently threatened by climatic and human-induced conditions. Our assessment analysed these data to create a model that determines the current rangeland conditions and extrapolate to predict future occurrences. Our solution would ensure that decision-makers make informed decisions to enhance environmental sustainability in Eastern Africa.

  • EO and geoinformatics resource centre 

ESIPPS developed an EO and geoinformatics resource centre to ensure that other institutions, including professionals in government departments, academia, students and the general public, have unfettered access to EO satellite data and other geoinformation resources. The data and information are largely free and available in both digital and analogue versions in an organised library. The latter is so that people can walk in and utilise the carefully curated EO and geoinformation resources at our centre. Our partners from the Faculty of Geoinformation and Earth Observation at the University of Twente in the Netherlands freely provide library books and journal resources. We are also working on a geoportal to ensure that all the available databases can be uploaded digitally and updated in real-time for easy access to everyone. 

  • Digitisation of agriculture in Uganda 

ESIPPS has spearheaded digitising agriculture in Uganda. We started this programme in 2014 by using drones to map crops and profile farmlands. We have been able to establish the system working with two agribusinesses but scaled it up as a national programme after presenting the concept to the Ugandan National Planning Authority. 

The key benefit of digitising agriculture is that you can easily trace agriculture products from specific locations by leveraging EO and geoinformation technologies. The digitisation scheme makes it easier for the government and stakeholders to identify the farmers and document their entire farming process to determine the input and expected output. In this sense, a farmer can be easily linked to a product source and monitor the farmer’s needs in real-time, including when to apply fertilisers, pesticides and any other product tied to the viability of crop outputs. Once each farmer’s dossier that contains all the pertinent information about his farm has been developed, his access to financial solutions from banks and other financial institutions (e.g., insurance companies) would significantly improve.

  • Evaluating green gas emissions from livestock

We are currently working on a novel EO project that establishes and evaluates greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) from livestock systems. Studies have been carried out using traditional tools, but we are leveraging geoinformation and remote sensing systems to estimate the green gas emission by evaluating the livestock supply system – the vegetation (pasture). The amount of pasture available is a vital indicator of the emission of GGE based on the current capacity deployed in the system. Therefore, estimating the GGE using a comprehensive model with more livestock and feeding resources is possible. Furthermore, the model under development will leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to detect what is happening underground through the relationship between animal dung and waste products and the resource (type of feed) that the animals are placed on. We plan to acquire the result from our pilot test in 2022 and publish the report in 2023. We hope to introduce this climate-mitigation model to other African countries in the long run.

  • Documentation Centre and policy briefs 

We have bid for and subsequently won some contracts and tenders from the government agencies and other regional and international institutions like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to mention but a few. 

Therefore, with our documentation centre, we hope to contribute more to the documentation of the essential National State of Environment Reports, which is a quadrennial mandate of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). In 2012, under NEMA’s mandate, we were able to help develop a comprehensive assessment of the environment. Take water, for example; we documented both demand and supply, used surrounding land use, and other parameters to record a concise profile to aid environmental decision making. 

Also, our documentation is partly going into policy briefing. For every project we do, we prepare a brief for the policy-makers. One of the key limitations of EO efforts is that information is shared by scientists and applauded by scientists. But, most times, it does not go beyond the scientists to policymakers who can make all the difference.

So the policy briefs are to ensure that all our findings and recommendations are shared directly with the policy-makers. For instance, we are on the fourth policy brief with GMES and the Africa Programme. The briefs have to be groundbreaking, a key finding in our work. Wetland monitoring and assessment is a big problem for Africa, at least in the East African region. And we have prepared policy statements to present through RCMRD to the government, the AUC, the countries the RCMRD represents and the  RAMSAR Centre For Eastern Africa (RAMCEA). So we are targeting three levels of briefing to the African Union, African states, and international institutions.

We also develop the state of resource/environment documentation for personal and public requests. For example, we mapped and documented the Somalian state of the environment on behalf of their government in 2018. For Somalia, documentation was key because the country was getting out of anarchy after so many years of armed conflict. The environmental issues within that conflict became worse by negligence and distraction of a system that should help protect the environment. So the management system of the environment had gone. For Somalia, we were thrilled to take on the project to document the state of their environment and to prepare a strategy for establishing a National Environment Information Centre for the country. Again, it was a concept learned from our previous experience from national state of environment projects in Uganda and myself having had a UNEP funded internship on geoinformation facility management at the Earth Resources Observation And Science (EROS) Centre of USA and participating in the establishment of the first-ever National Environment Information Centre for Uganda.

Also, I worked on UN Environment’s sixth Global Environment Outlook (GEO 6). I was the vice-chair of the project, and we produced the GEO 6 report in time for the fourth United Nations Environmental Assembly in 2019. The GEO 6 report highlighted the deteriorating state of the overall global environmental situation. The report was published and consumed at the international level, and we were very proud that the American Association of Publishers 2020 awarded our documentation service, a Prose Awards Finalist and Subject Category Winner for environmental sciences. 

  • Gender Program

ESIPPS is the first African private EO and geoinformation company to establish a gender research platform. The GECA Research Institute was initiated in 2012 as a Think tank on gender, climate change and agriculture in Africa and has now evolved into an institute. GECA was registered in December 2021 in Uganda as a not-for-profit organisation, and a secretariat set up at ESIPPS International Ltd envisioning “An informed and resilient agricultural system for Africa that integrates gender and climate change”. The mission of GECA is “to generate, disseminate and support the use of information and knowledge data on gender, climate change and agriculture nexus for a sustainable agricultural system and better livelihoods in Africa”.

For these projects and services, I was at the 2019 Women’s day celebrations awarded the “Uganda Golden Jubilee Independence Medal” by H.E, the President of the Republic of Uganda. These medals are awarded to personalities who have excelled in their professions and have contributed significantly to the economic development of the country and or livelihoods of the communities they serve. I was awarded the medal on account of my contribution to environmental mapping, assessment, conservation, planning and documentation, including the use of location-based databases and geospatial mapping technologies such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing.

 

What role does ESIPPS play in implementing the GMES and Africa Programme?
Wetlands Vulnerability Analysis tool for Eastern Africa

The Wetlands Vulnerability Analysis (WVA) tool was developed under the auspices of the African Union (AU) in collaboration with the European Union (EU) on the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) & Africa Program, implemented through the Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) and partners. The objective of the assignment was to develop an Earth Observation (EO)-based methodology of wetlands vulnerability analysis in relation to the multi-temporal data processing for Wetlands Monitoring and Assessment. 

ESIPPS was contracted to develop the methodology using readily available EO data from online databases and available data from national databases. The methodology demonstrated using a prototype that automates input of EO and associated geoinformation data on selected hotspot wetlands from ten Eastern African countries (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda). It was based on the Driver-Pressure-State-Impact-Response (DPSIR) Model and Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA). The tool allows analysts to model wetland vulnerability by modifying weights of the factors contributing to wetland vulnerability. In addition, rigorous stakeholder engagement and training were deployed to ensure co-ownership and sustainability. 

Our primary focus is to get GMES and Africa and our partners, RMCRD and ICPAC, to develop mapping tools and strategies, present our solutions to policymakers across East Africa and subsequently advise them of the wetland threat and rangelands early warning, respectively in their country. However, we would like to do more, especially during the second phase of the GMES and Africa programme and the governments hosting these wetland assessments to create long term wetland assessment programmes for East African countries.

How can you rate the adoption of your products and services by governments and policy-makers? 

The critical achievement I would say in estimating the adoption rate for the government is about 50%, brought by the key needs we present, not just the key needs of the government but also for the people. So if we create a solution that aims to improve the conditions of the people, the government is usually eager to adopt it. For instance, the  Wetlands Vulnerability Analysis tool that I mentioned earlier was the first project we did with RCMRD and presented to the governments through a stakeholder engagement and training that has attracted over 700 participants. The rangelands programme, which started with a consultancy to establish environmental action plans for the North Eastern Uganda countries, culminated in interest from decision-makers. Our recommendations were taken seriously by the EU and the government, and in turn, they have asked that we keep investigating to stay abreast of our environment. So the uptake now on the range monitoring and assessment project is about 60-70% for me because the government and the international community has taken it up. 

Also, I would say that the adoption of our agricultural digitisation project is about 50% because the government has taken it up as a national programme. When something is a national programme, it becomes part of the national planning system and is assured of sustainability by funding from the government.

In addition, ESIPPS was the first Ugandan company to carry out the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) for oil and gas. The SEA was developed through the leadership of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD) through its Petroleum Exploration and Production Department (PEPD) and coordinated by National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). The project presented a unique opportunity for Uganda to systematically address environmental management issues about oil and gas activities in the Albertine Graben in sustainable development. As a result, we developed strategic recommendations for policies, plans, and programmes to guide Albertine’s environmental planning and decision-making. The result culminated in Cabinet Paper for further policy and legislation of the country’s environmental safeguards for oil and gas development. 

ESIPPS was identified to write a concept for the government on Earth observation segment of the Ugandan space policy. It is very nascent, but we have presented the first draft. We will subsequently submit the second draft, and hopefully, we can begin to talk about implementing these plans.

The projects that I have highlighted here are great examples that reflect the quality of our work and their adoption rate. 

What are the current challenges or limitations you are facing as a company?

As a company, we have the severe problem of staff retention. This is because geoinformation scientists are well specialised, and when they get experience and exposure – of course, you cannot keep them. But we have a solution not to employ people to keep, but to have them as associates. So all those people that have worked with us, whether as interns or left after a short while, are still our resource. And I am thrilled that this solution is working. We also have established an Equity Program where long-serving associates, now four members, have taken up co-ownership of the company by buying shares through cash and contributing certain man-days on projects. This ensures sustainable human resources and strengthens management as the programme participants are also being considered to sit on the ESIPPS Advisory Board.

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