World Resources Institute

Democratizing data to secure food and water in the Sahel

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

More than 80% of the 150 million people in the Sahel are farmers, the majority of which live in extreme poverty. The challenges that this dry region faces—from lack of economic opportunity to severe food shortages—are rooted in its most valuable resource: land. Declining crop yields, desertification, water scarcity, and poverty are the consequences of land degradation and climate change. To address these challenges, local solutions based on access to high-quality, near-real-time data on rainfall, soil health, temperature, and crop yields are needed – data that farmers in developed countries routinely access and use. Communities urgently need this information to design sustainable land-use strategies to protect the region’s food and water. But, data alone is not enough. For success, local networks must be engaged to help farmers and pastoralists understand the data, make informed decisions, and take action to transform and regreen their land and restore the Sahel’s economy.

Problem Statement

The Sahel is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change, and one of the most environmentally degraded. Situated directly south of the Sahara Desert, 80% of the population depends on land for their livelihoods. Land degradation and desertification threatens the food, water, and economic security of 150 million people in the Sahel every day. Famines like the one in 2010, which left 10 million people hungry and forced families to trek more than 600 miles to find food, are projected to become more frequent as the region gets hotter and drier.Several efforts to return vitality to land across the Sahel have already started, but the accelerated impact of climate change demands greater scale and ambition. Isolated successes exist, but they cannot be replicated without identifying where they are, under what climate conditions they thrived, and how interventions led to results. Information must reach local communities, governments, businesses, journalists and scientists to enable rapid, informed decision-making to adapt to changing rainfall patterns, temperatures and crop yields. Access to such information, however, is prohibitively expensive to purchase directly from companies, and when data does exist, it often doesn't reach the right people. Worse still, the data may exist in a form that has no value to farmers, such as complex statistics or maps without explanations. Without the right expertise, partnerships, local communication channels and user-friendly tools, such as apps, to turn important data into actionable results, technological advances have limited impact and cannot influence large-scale change.

Solution Overview

Our vision is to reach out to 5 million people to revitalize 10 million hectares of land across the Sahel to produce more food, protect water sources, and limit the impact of climate change. To do this, WRI, Oxfam, and Code for Africa will develop user-friendly field applications and training materials in local languages that translate high-quality, near-real-time data on rainfall patterns, soil health, temperature, and crop yields into usable information. We will combine this with peer-to-peer learning and mass communication on successful past regreening work. By leveraging our networks we can connect agricultural extension officers, local activists, women’s and youth movements, local media and entrepreneurs by democratizing access to this important data to regreen land. Local data-driven storytellers can help translate this data into actionable information for farmers. These tools will help farmers identify the best species to plant based on the changing local climate and seedling availability. With the help of technology and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing in local languages, this can be exponentially increased. Imagine: A farmer visits a seedling drop-off point and sees an extension officer with a smartphone. Using an app, the officer provides suggestions on the best seedlings to use and how to plant them to increase yields and water availability. She demonstrates the process and encourages farmers to send her questions via SMS. Later, a farmer can’t remember cassava spacing and sends an SMS, which is answered quickly. Thanks to data, her harvest is more bountiful than ever. This is democratizing data in action.

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