A real-time livestock water source monitoring and risk management system project in Ethiopia

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By Alemayehu Sintayehu

The livestock sector contributes about 36% to the Ethiopian agricultural GDP and accounts for about 15% of export earnings in the country. Ethiopia has one of the largest livestock populations in Africa, estimated at about 35 million Tropical Livestock Units (TLUs). Thus, the development of the livestock sector is fundamental to supporting the country’s economic, and social development.

However, the drought situation is also accelerated by decades of human interference with nature leading to deteriorated natural ecological settings and never-seen proportions of water scarcity and shrinkage of water bodies to unimaginable volumes. This makes the basic survival of millions of pastoralists and their livestock extremely risky and high magnitudes of vulnerability to climate -triggered hazards are now the norm. Shrinking resources not only affect livestock production and livelihoods of pastoral communities but also triggers conflicts among different ethnic groups.

Millions of pastoralist dependent on livestock and its products are increasingly faced with extreme dangers of food insecurity and chronic hunger. For instance, the recent drought in the Borena zone, Oromia region, resulted in the death of 1.5 million livestock units which is estimated to amount to a loss of 12 billion Ethiopian birrs.

Pastoral communities in the Borena zone and other parts of the country have limited or no access to timely early warning information particularly on waterhole water levels located across their districts. The absence of timely information has reduced the resilience of the pastoral community to cope with the recurrent drought. Thus, they instead rely on traditional knowledge to forecast weather and devise a coping mechanism for the existing climate change impacts. In addition, policymakers at the federal and regional levels still demand timely and reliable information to enhance their early warning response measures for planning and implementing key climate risk responses. Therefore, this is essential to establish a livestock early warning information system on the water surface in major livestock-producing pastoral areas to provide real-time and reliable information to address the major challenge facing the livestock sector.

A Real-Time Livestock water source monitoring and risk management system (LWSM) project comes at a crucial time when recurrent droughts currently affect livestock and pastoralist communities in Ethiopia. The project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and led by the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute, along with other key national and local institutions. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is also a key technical partner in the implementation of the project.
The LWSM project aligns with the country’s agricultural strategy and agricultural investment plan objectives to address climate risks in drought-prone areas. Primarily, the project intends to develop an integrated platform that monitors livestock water availability on a near real-time basis using remote sensing and weather information. Secondly, build a simplified web-based decision-support tool for the dissemination of real-time information to livestock producers, and other key stakeholders for proper and relevant risk management decision-making and drought planning. Third, design a scalable, holistic, and gender-sensitive capacity enhancement program to mitigate drought risks. Stakeholder engagement and capacity building are crucial components across the project cycle that involve conducting a needs assessment of the community, engaging key stakeholders in project product testing and validation, and conducting training to better understand and use the decision support tool for end users. The tool provides site-specific information on the relative depth, rainfall, and evaporation level of the water surface/waterhole. The information will be disseminated through different platforms including traditional knowledge.

At the event held on 16th November at the Hilton Addis Ababa Hotel, Ethiopia, the LWSM project was officially launched to sensitize key stakeholders and decision-makers at the federal and regional levels. The participants were drawn from the government, development partners, Borean Zone community leaders, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), research institutions and academia, the private sector, and the media.

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