Empowering Pastoralists: How Mobile Technology is Protecting Land and Connecting Communities

Many pastoralists in East Africa have followed nomadic traditions for centuries.

As the seasons change, pastoralists migrate across the semi-arid regions of Africa with their cattle, goats, camels and sheep. Some pastoralists also manage crops in addition to livestock. With a wealth of knowledge about the local ecosystem and practices that preserve natural resources, pastoral communities are important stewards of the land.

40 percent of Africa’s land is pastoral.

But, like their land, the livelihood of pastoralists in East Africa is under pressure. As national boundaries shift and nature reserves and agriculture use expands, there is less land for the pastoralists.


Climate change is a threat to pastoral communities

Shifting weather patterns and drought—combined with restrictions on access to land and water make life difficult for pastoralists. Additionally, as demand for natural resources grows, land is degraded, jeopardizing the health of livestock. Without documentation of their land rights, pastoralists are also at risk of being displaced from the lands they depend on for survival. For these remote communities to adapt and be resilient, they need access to information that will help them sustainably manage their land and better respond to climate change.


Degraded and eroded rangeland in Northern Kenya.

A new tool is connecting pastoralists to the cloud

With their mobile phone, pastoralists in Kenya and Namibia can now gather data and acquire knowledge to help them respond to climate change and other threats. The cloud-based Land Potential Knowledge System (LandPKS) was designed by USAID and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to address threats that pastoralists face.

Using a smartphone camera and an app, pastoralists and land managers observe and document land use, soil properties, erosion, precipitation and topography in their local environments.
These inputs are stored in a cloud data portal that is accessible to a global network of pastoralists, farmers, scientists and other agriculture experts. As data is gathered, local extension agents interpret the information and offer pastoralists advice on improving land and soil productivity.


Training rangeland managers in Northern Kenya to use the LandPKS apps.

The right tools make every hectare count

By combining local knowledge with scientific expertise and data, the LandPKS technology offers the promise of improving sustainable land and resource management in pastoral areas around the globe.

Sustainable land management—vital for all pastoral and agricultural lands—can prevent, reduce and even reverse land degradation. And when sustainably managed, pastoral lands can sequester up to one billion tons of carbon per year.

In future iterations, pastoralists and farmers may be able to use this data to improve resilience by identifying the best grazing land, the best mix of crops to grow, and what plots of land to leave fallow.

With the right tools and information, these communities can improve resilience and mitigate and better adapt to climate change.


Samburu Boy.

About this Project

For rural communities around the world to be resilient, they need access to information that will help them sustainably manage their land and better respond to climate change, protect biodiversity and enable greater food production using fewer resources.

To connect pastoralists, farmers and land managers with experts and expedite the information flow between these groups, USAID and USDA have developed the Land Potential Knowledge System (LandPKS), a suite of freely available technology and tools for sustainable land use planning, inventory, assessment and monitoring. Through two mobile applications and a cloud database, these tools connect researchers and practitioners to rangeland and agricultural communities to form a global knowledge network for sustainable land management.

LandPKS helps rural communities to assess the characteristics of their land—such as soil properties, erosion, precipitation and topography—and share this information with a community of scientists and experts around the world who can interpret the data and advise on customized solutions for sustainable land use planning.

LandPKS is currently being piloted in north-central Kenya and northeastern Namibia.


Learn more about LandPKS.

This photo essay was originally posted on the USAID Publications Page on Exposure.

Strategic Objective
Mitigation, Adaptation
Sustainable Landscapes, Resilience, Migration, Land Use, Land Tenure, Biodiversity, Adaptation

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