Digital Peacebuilding
The spread of digital technology in the Sudano-Sahel is transforming the way pastoral communities practice their livelihood in the context of growing environmental, social, and political instability. Although pastoralism is often viewed as a practice from... Read More
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The spread of digital technology in the Sudano-Sahel is transforming the way pastoral communities practice their livelihood in the context of growing environmental, social, and political instability. Although pastoralism is often viewed as a practice from a pre-modern era, it has always been adaptive, and pastoralists are now adapting to the digital age. The rapid spread of inexpensive mobile devices is enabling residents of rural areas the ability to communicate across distance and access valuable information. The penetration rate of mobile telecom (SIM) in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to reach 86% by 2025. In eastern Africa, pastoralists have been early adopters of mobile phone applications and in western Africa they have been the principal users of SIM-based climate information services.

Increasing access to new technological platforms and tools has the potential to reduce risks of conflict by strengthening the services available for mobile populations – from access to natural resources to protection against livestock theft (see Module -Rural Development). Direct access to geospatial data can help local leaders and individuals make more informed decisions about how to harmonize pastoral migration routes and farmland. Innovations in remote tracking tools for livestock can help authorities respond more effectively to theft in insecure areas.

While new technologies hold the potential to support peacebuilding, they are not an automatic solution. Investors and practitioners must be mindful of the limits of any new technology including the cost and scalability. Most importantly, efforts to introduce new technologies must be accountable to the needs of the local pastoralist or farmer who will use them. The most effective tools are not always the ones that are the most technologically innovative, but the ones that are accessible and useful to the communities they are intended to help.

This Module outlines several different types of digital technology that each have the potential to support peacebuilding outcomes. Many of these technologies are still evolving but are likely to play a substantial role in the future of pastoralism in the Sudano-Sahel.

Questions to Consider in Your Context
Intervention Strategies
Geospatial Technology

Historically, local communities have accommodated pastoral migrations through shared understanding of the routes where herds pass through and places where they need to graze. However, in recent decades, greater resource pressure and changes in the timing of livestock movements have increased the need for stricter demarcation of migration corridors at a national or regional scale. Efforts to map and mark migration routes are complex and cumbersome, which has increased the need for technological support. The introduction of handheld global positioning systems (GPS) technology – such as in phones – and digital maps allow local stakeholders to easily access comprehensive and up-to-date information. GPS and digital mapping technology can be used to identify the areas where seasonal resources are available and where there is a need for corridors to connect such areas across agro-pastoral landscapes.

These tools can be used to facilitate more inclusive and equitable resource governance. In Sudan, for example, scientists and practitioners are using geospatial data collected from GPS and satellite sources to pinpoint the reasons why livestock herds begin their seasonal movements through areas such as Kordofan, which is the location of many large-scale farming operations that may block livestock movements. Identifying resources or migration corridors in a map makes it easier to promote public awareness of land use agreements and protect against misuse (such as cattle traveling into unauthorized areas or farms expanding into migration corridors). However, access to geospatial data and even handheld GPS devices varies across the Sudano-Sahel. It is essential for interveners to be aware of the risk that the transition into the use of new technology can reinforce economic and regional inequalities.

What Makes Interventions with Geospatial Tools Succeed?
What Makes Interventions with Geospatial Tools Fail?
Case Study
Pastoral Networks Maintain a Database of Corridors and Grazing Areas in Burkina Faso
Climate Information Services

To survive in arid Sahelian climates, pastoralists must be able to adapt to changing conditions in their environment. Understanding where to access surface water and pasture year-round, particularly during drier periods, is essential to the survival of pastoral herds. Pastoralists have traditionally coped with this uncertainty through non-digital approaches, such as sending out scouts ahead of their herds. However, digital climate information services can provide pastoralists with more detailed data on resource availability or weather patterns through a combination of satellite images, georeferencing tools, and informants on the ground. This information can then be transmitted to the public via radio broadcasts, SMS, call-in centers, or applications for mobile devices. These services frequently expand beyond climate data to cover a range of other relevant information including livestock prices, locations of veterinary stations and vaccination parks, disease occurrences, concentrations of cattle, and areas of conflict. Advances in cloud computing and user interface facilitate a seamless link between data source and local users.  As a result, pastoralists in remote areas can access information to help them plan their migration routes, find necessary resources and, at times, avoid confrontations with farmers, bandits, or other pastoralists.

Climate data also has potential applications to guide investments in stabilization, development, and responses to conflict. Advances in data analysis tools enable experts to anticipate risks for drought or resource shortages that are likely to displace pastoralist communities and spark local conflicts. With this information, development agencies and others can take pre-emptive action to assist pastoral and sedentary communities before they are devastated by natural disasters and before conflicts escalate.

What Makes Interventions with Climate Information Services Succeed?
What Makes Interventions with Climate Information Services Fail?
Case Study
Early Warning Service Provides West African Pastoralists with Real-Time Information
Case Study
Climate Data Predicts Risks of Conflict in Somalia
Anti-Theft Technology

Pastoral livestock and the herders who take them on migration are frequently targeted for theft by bandits and armed groups, fueling the proliferation of small arms (see Module – Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism). Livestock are an appealing target, in part, because they can be easily hidden in an isolated area such as a protected forest or quickly sold in a nearby market. Once they are stolen, they are difficult to find and recover. The rampant increase in livestock theft across the Sudano-Sahel has increased the need for innovative technological solutions to policing pastoral rangelands. In Senegal, for example, the mLouma network allows livestock keepers to rapidly communicate theft incidents using internet and cellular networks to law enforcement authorities with the goal of making it easier to track and recover livestock quickly. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) have also been used to monitor isolated areas where thieves may attempt to hide stolen livestock before they can sell them.

The most commonly used technology for keeping track of livestock is radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. RFID devices allow animals to be remotely tracked (over a limited distance) and allow for greater transparency in buying and selling livestock. RFID devices hold an electronic record of the ownership of an animal, along with veterinary records and other information. This technology makes it easier to regulate livestock markets and enable merchants to accurately verify the owner of a cow before it is sold. Using RFID devices in conjunction with tamper-proof electronic record systems (e.g., blockchain) has the potential to transform livestock markets by replacing paper records of an animal’s health or origin with more secure digital records. These tools can make the livestock trade more transparent and easier to regulate, which will diminish the market value of stolen livestock and make the industry more attractive to investors. However, within the Sudano-Sahel, each of the technologies described in this section are in limited use, particularly in regions that are outside the effective control of law enforcement.

What Makes Interventions with Anti-Theft Technologies Succeed?
What Makes Interventions with Anti-Theft Technologies Fail?
Case Study
Nigerian Pastoralists Alert Authorities in Real Time to Cattle Theft
Case Study
Livestock Markets across Sub-Saharan Africa Experiment with Traceability Systems