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Estimating biomass and water availability for livestock in Niger and Mali

Brussels, 14 July 2017. Action against Hunger, an international NGO working in the West African Sahel, has been using EO data to enhance the planning of humanitarian responses to drought impacts. Software developed by Action against Hunger uses Copernicus Global Land Service Products to estimate biomass/grassland production and water availability in the Sahel region.

The NGO uses the software and Copernicus products to strengthen the drought monitoring capacity in the region. This is helping decision makers -such as the Government of Mali – to operate their own drought detection system, as a component of the national early warning system. To further democratise the information, the next step is to deliver information directly to herders.

Over the years, rainfall in the West African Sahel has become increasingly volatile, with years of floods preceding extreme droughts. These climatic shocks place millions of people in a precarious and vulnerable situation, which is more acutely felt by livestock herders.

In countries such as Mali and Niger, the majority of cattle are held in semi-nomadic herds that move according to the seasons in search of greener pasture and water. As the Sahel has a single rainy season of 3-4 months between July and October, herders need to make careful decisions on moving their cattle, ensuring that their animals stay healthy and survive the long dry season. For the communities in the region a poor rainy season can severely affect their way of living. Family herds that took decades to form can be decimated in only a few months. As an example, in 2009, following a drought in Niger, herders in the worst-hit areas lost up to 90% of their livestock.

Reliable information on biomass and water availability is fundamental. Herders, as well as humanitarian and government actors, need to know which areas are going to be impacted by droughts to plan for early response interventions.

Since 2005, a humanitarian NGO, Action against Hunger (Action Contre la Faim, ACF), has been working to use remote sensing data to improve humanitarian response to droughts. Through a partnership with the Flemish Institute of Technology (VITO NV, Belgium), ACF has been providing geo-information, derived from the SPOT/VGT and PROBA-V satellite sensors, to other humanitarian actors in order to identify areas prone to drought.

Over the years, this initiative has grown and several Copernicus Global Land Service products related to vegetation and water – Dry Matter Productivity, Water Bodies, Soil Water Index and Normalized Difference Vegetation Index – are now being used operationally to monitor the West Sahel. Software developed by ACF uses Copernicus data to estimate biomass/grassland production and water availability.

This article was first published in Copernicus Observer.
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