Progress Report on GMES and Africa’s Regional Workshops: Setting the Stage for the 2nd Continental GMES and Africa Forum

The Global Monitoring for Environment and Security and Africa (GMES & Africa) is one of the African Union Commission (AUC) flagship programmes funded by the European Commission. The programme is the crystallisation of the longstanding cooperation between Africa and Europe in space science & technology, which is one of the key priorities of the long-term EU-Africa Joint Strategy. 

The GMES and Africa Support Programme was tasked with organising two continental forums and two continental workshops during its implementation. The first GMES & Africa Support Programme forum was co-organised by the African Union Commission and the Government of Gabon through the Agence Gabonaise d’Études et d’Observation Spatiale (AGEOS) from 19th to 23rd November 2018 in Libreville, Gabon.

The second continental forum of GMES and Africa will be held from 6th to 10th December in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. The forum will centre on the ways EO can enhance environmental sustainability and socio-economic development in Africa. This theme reflects the programme’s overarching mandate. This includes 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 GMES and Africa have also organised (alongside other stakeholders) several regional forums aimed at: 

  • responding to African needs on the water, natural resources, marine and coastal areas; 
  • addressing the global needs to manage the environment, ensure civil security; and 
  • enabling the implementation of the African Space Policy and Strategy. 

In preparation for the second continental forum, here is a progress report of some regional workshops that have been organised in recent times:

  1. The GMES North Africa Regional Workshop – held in Tunis, Tunisia
  2. The GMES East African Workshop – held in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
  3. The Joint Workshop with the Network of Universities
  4. The GMES and Africa Joint Services Workshop – held in Zanzibar, Tanzania
1. The GMES North Africa Regional Workshop

The Observatoire du Sahara et du Sahel (OSS) and the National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences (NARSS) co-organised a regional workshop for North Africa on September 20th – 22nd, 2021, in Tunis, Tunisia. The forum brought together the North-African partners of both consortia from the Natural &Water Resources and Marine & Coastal thematic area and other relevant end-users and stakeholders involved in the GMES and Africa project. Due to the Covid constraints, the workshop was held in a hybrid format, with participants from Tunisia participating physically and participants from other countries taking part virtually.

The regional workshop addressed the way to capitalise on the achievements of the first phase concerning the operational EO services in support of the sustainable management of natural resources and the socio-economic transformation for the North-Africa region aligned with the national policies and strategies. It also discussed the GMES and Africa’s second phase’s road map based on the lessons learnt from the first phase. The workshop also saw several panel discussions focused on the thematic areas from several key personnel in the industry. Furthermore, the speakers were able to highlight their main achievements and the results of their projects. 

These sessions also highlighted the expectations of the GMES project second phase, which would be a continuity of new ideas to improve the first phase of GMES project achievements. As a result, several recommendations were made, including;

  • Involving more stakeholders in projects to promote co-design and cross-fertilisation of ideas and innovations. Also, didactic tools (tutorial videos, etc.) must be effectively disseminated across the board to agricultural, marine and coastal institutions,
  • Laying more emphasis on capacity building to better exploit the tools and services developed. Also, data and other resources should be free and open-source to ensure their sustainability,
  • Maximising collaboration and exchange of experiences between different institutions and countries,
  • Monitoring seasonal agriculture, agricultural water, and potential fishing areas – possible at various scales from operational tools and products (MISBAR, MISLAND, NARSS portals). Furthermore, cloud computing, BIG data and AI technologies should be implemented to improve the agricultural forecast,
  • Strengthening inter-institutional collaboration to promote the sharing of knowledge, experience and resources (information and in situ data). Also, more sessions should be organised for local end-users to get their feedback and improve the services offered, and 
  • Correlating environmental measures with safety measures to minimise the impact of oil spills by extending the collaboration to other structures (Defence, Security).
2. The GMES East African Workshop

The GMES & Africa Programme and the East African Consortia convened a regional workshop in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania, from 13th -15th October 2021. The GMES & AFRICA Workshop themed “Strengthening Data Access and Sharing Practices”, bought together experts and scientists in different thematic areas, their partners and relevant stakeholders from three East Africa Region Consortia, namely; the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), the Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD), and the Mauritius Oceanography Institute (MOI).

The objectives of the workshop were to:

  • Engage dialogues, network and create awareness of EO among East Africa stakeholders, including the private sector, policymakers, academia and end-users,
  • Raise awareness of the project activities at national and regional levels with a focus on the key GMES and Africa thematic areas, and
  • Gather feedback and further needs on the developed products and services.

The discussion session was divided into key themes, including Data & Infrastructure, Training & Capacity Development, Products & Services and Communication and Outreach. Below are the key insights from the discussions as presented by the three consortia:

  • There has been a tremendous demand for EO data regionally and it has been made accessible to decision-makers. However, it is essential to keep enhancing satellite data provisions mechanisms, including derived data products, to improve decision making in the East Africa region. Furthermore, the regional consortia should move from analysis-ready data to decision-ready information to reduce the decision-making process. In addition, the consortia were also encouraged to package information to end-users as alerts through various mechanisms such as social media, email and SMS.
  • There is a need to improve on the online data/information access platform to bridge the gap brought about by the limitation of physical interactions. Also, creating dashboards can significantly enhance data access, analysis and visualisation to both professional EO experts and decision-makers who are not EO experts. Furthermore, there is a need to integrate all services into one platform that can be accessible to all stakeholders in an innovative and user-friendly manner.
  • It was noted that a well-developed geoportal was a prerequisite to the digitisation of African natural resources as envisioned in the agenda 2063. To this effect, RCMRD and ICPAC were advised to link their geoportal with other consortia geoportals. This way, the two institutions can achieve in transferring their services to a continental platform.
  • The GMES & Africa East Africa region training was noted to be a vital component of the programme as assurance for continuity and sustainability of the completed services. To this end, the consortia were advised to package their training materials into a rich curriculum that training institutions can offer.

ICPAC requested a slot in the program to have a side event to honour participants of a Climate Action Campaign competition that aimed to give visibility to local mitigation and adaptation solutions from Eastern Africa. Furthermore, ICPAC had several Earth champions and winners from Tanzania who were awarded on the last day of the workshop. Additionally, the GMES ICPAC team gave the production equipment to the Tanzania Forest services to aid their work as their partners.

The consortia members (including the partners and the private sector) were advised to challenge themselves more in the second phase of the GMES and Africa project by working extra hard and prioritising the challenges facing the people they represent in the region. On their part, the consortia promised the AUC Project Management team that they would double their commitment in the implementation of the second phase of the GMES and Africa Program and using the lessons learnt in the first phase, the Consortia would try to cut the time and cost of transactions so that products and services reach the intended parties in the quickest time possible.

3. The Joint Workshop with the Network of Universities

GMES & Africa programme has established an operational network of academia. This is in line with the programme’s Description of Action(DOA) and the recognition of the importance of academia in research, development and innovation. Since conceptualisation, GMES & Africa made it a requirement that each eligible consortium have an academic institution as a key partner, particularly but not limited to the capacity building work package. Among the lessons learned during the implementation is that Academia plays a key role in EO beyond the capacity building. This is evident because two academic institutions are among the 12 consortia leaders (CSSTE and the University of Ghana). Therefore, there is a need to take initiatives linking academia in EO into a collaborative network. 

The second joint workshop of GMES & Africa Network of Academia was convened on 21-22 June 2021 with the following objectives:

  • Review the progress from previous discussions and come up with recommendations for the continuation of the Network,
  • Learn important lessons from other existing Networks of Academia, and
  • Discuss the sustainability mechanisms of the Network

GMES & Africa developed a training strategy as a guiding compass for the training activities. Among the principles of the strategies, the following are critical:

  • Conducting courses through academic institutions and in three modes:
    • Online
    • On-0the-job
    • Classroom
  • Offering scholarships of Masters and PhD to contribute to the development of services,
  • Integration of Earth Observation and Emerging Technologies such as cloud computing, and
  • Joint training and skills exchange among the institutions. 

The training process started with a Needs Assessment exercise conducted in all the consortia. These needs were translated into courses. Division of responsibilities was necessary, and the courses were categorised into continental and regional-or-consortium-specific. 

All the crosscutting courses are identified as continental courses under the responsibility of AUC and technical partners of EC (JRC, EUMETSAT, ESA). The remaining courses are specific to the consortium or region, and they are regarded as specific courses under the consortium’s responsibility in collaboration with relevant institutions. All the courses are integrated into a training catalogue and according to the pillars. Furthermore, the implementation of the training at both regional and continental levels are done according to the Training Strategy and following the catalogue, with regular review. To facilitate online training, the Digital Learning Platform (DLP) was created to host online modules. 

Similarly, European Commission’s technical institutions, e.g. JRC, EUMETSAT have been doing on-the-job training to specific consortia. Altogether, about 3,000 people have been trained, and 40 scholarships in Masters and PhD awarded through the grants. Furthermore, consortia have been collaborating with the exchange of expertise in areas such as estation troubleshooting, operations, etc.

The two-day workshop also delivered on its expected outcomes, including:

  • Learning from existing Networks of Universities and drawing essential lessons,
  • Learning from activities of existing Networks and providing concrete recommendations to sustain the GMES & Africa Network,
  • Recommendations to actively foster Inter-university collaborations, and
  • Interim leadership and guiding keyword
4. The GMES and Africa Joint Services Workshop

The GMES and Africa convened a Joint Services Workshop from 6th – 10th September 2021 in Zanzibar, Tanzania. The workshop brought together the programme’s 12 consortia representing the water and natural resources and marine and coastal thematic areas. It also drew participants from the private sector and academia and other operatives in the EO industry. The workshop aimed to foster dialogue and networking and increase awareness about EO whilst strengthening the involvement of the private sector, academia, and end-users in service development and delivery actions implemented by consortia.

The participant used the opportunity to recommend methods of improving regional and global dialogue on EO. Some of the recommendations include:

  • There should be stronger interaction between the private sector and academia in capacity building, data and infrastructure, and service development. Furthermore, the development of services should be done on open source software and platforms to give access to all,
  • The challenge of projects stopping at the end of the envelope funding is a significant challenge that calls for sustainable project models,
  • The institutions must know the exact needs that they are solving to enable them to select data with precision. Furthermore, the Digital Learning Platform (DLP) is a centralised resource pool that allows consortia to share skills and resources for cross-fertilisation. The interface of the DLP should be improved to make it easy for users whilst ensuring robust quality control measures, and
  • Communications teams should employ relevant, customised techniques to bridge gaps caused by social barriers. The use of communications feedback and result measurement should be maximised.

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