Kenyan Herders Use SMS Service To Beat Climate Change

Landscape of Maasai Mara savannah with animals during a safari in Kenya
Landscape of Maasai Mara savannah with animals during a safari in Kenya. Photo Credit: @elcarito via Unsplash

Kenyan herders previously relied on divination and guessing movements in the sky to study weather conditions. Typical nomadic herders in East Africa look up to the moon, the stars and the early morning sun to draw insights on possible weather conditions for the day.

Changing climatic conditions and longer drought spells are frustrating their reliance on age-long traditional methods of weather studies. Climate change poses a devastating threat to the Kenyan economy, making pasturalists the most vulnerable working group in the East African nation.

Agriculture accounts for 65 per cent of Kenya’s total export earnings and provides a source of living for about 80 per cent of its population, according to the U.N Food and Agriculture Organisation. The sector further directly contributes to 27 per cent of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employing more than 40 per cent of the nation’s workforce.

Read: How nomadic herders in Mali rely on satellites to spot water and vegetation in the desert

However, Kenya is vulnerable to frequent drastic drought spells which occur roughly every 2 to 4 years. According to available data, between 2008 and 2011 Kenya lost about USD 9.6 billion in revenue due to drought, reducing its GDP by 2.8 per cent each year. About 72 per cent of the total loss was connected to livestock.

The impact of drought on livestock sets back the overall economy and the livelihood of pasturalist communities, driving livestock herders into a ruthless search for water and pasture in some of the world’s most uninhabitable terrains.

How Technology is Solving the Challenge

Extreme climate change is forcing pasturalists to rethink their age-long wisdom by adopting near-real time weather information service, thanks to a Kenyan technology firm Amfratech that is providing seamless SMS service to pasturalists to beat erratic weather conditions.

The service sends valuable weather information as text messages to pasturalists, helping them locate water pots and vegetation areas in their vicinity.

Amfratech launched the basic SMS service earlier this year targeting, the last mile users in remote areas who managed to own a feature phone. The company has also rolled out a more advanced app-based version for smartphone users as part of its user acquisition drive.

On the back-office infrastructure, Amfratech leverages satellite data from a US agricultural intelligence firm, aWhere, to provide subscribers with vital weather information.

Recognizing the challenges livestock pasturalist face, the Kenyan government in 2014 launched the Kenya Livestock Insurance Program (KLIP) to mitigate business risks for livestock farmers. KLIP combines the expertise of government agencies, private insurance actors, research institutions and the international community (including the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) with the support of the World Bank.

The free programme uses an advanced algorithm to query survey data on livestock mortality combined with satellite data on vegetation cover, to reveal real-time insight on livestock mortality across the herder communities. If the algorithm dictates a certain level of loss (strike point), “it triggers an insurance payout via M-PESA mobile payment systems, providing pasturalists cash to purchase water and fodder to sustain their livestock throughout the drought period”, according to an impact report carried out by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.

The Kenyan government has raised its budget allocations to KLIP by approximately seven-fold, allowing an increase in coverage from 18,000 to 45,000 households by the year 2020.

“By early 2018, KLIP had made payouts of more than USD 7 million to 32,000 pastoral households since its inception”, the impact report notes.

Kenyan government recognizes the role of Earth observation satellites as critical tools in providing invaluable data that enables actualisation of the President’s policy priority concerning food security, urbanisation and water.

The Kenyan Space Agency recently accepted the responsibility to lead the Africa Regional Data Cube (ARDC) as part of a holistic government plan to tackle food scarcity using satellite data.



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