As technology advancements continue to shape the world, more minds are tapping into the ability of technology to map for, analyze and use geospatial data to make decisions.
Between 6th and 8th September 2022, people of different walks, thoughts, and scientific expertise met during the 5th annual Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) International Conference (RIC2022), held at the RCMRD offices in Nairobi, Kenya.
The focus was to see how technology such as the use of drones and satellites, is being infused into the search for geo-information and other pieces of scientific data to map the available resources and achieve resilient social systems.
This would help Africa and other continents to tackle hunger, water insecurity, floods, and other relatable problems affecting our planet.
This year’s theme was “Earth Observation Services for Resilient Social Systems”, in response to the ongoing pressure on the few resources being shared among an ever-increasing human population.
Numerous partners, scientists, agriculturalists, geographers, developers, and other experts showcased their wealth of knowledge through keynote speeches, oral paper and project presentations, demos, and exhibition booths ubiquitous during the three-day conference.
The spotlight thematic areas were Agriculture and Food Distribution Systems, Water Resources and Blue Economy, Geo Innovation in Health, Land Administration and Management Systems, and Natural Ecosystems and Biodiversity Conservation, among others.
Plenary sessions and capacity-building sessions involved small groups thinking through different issues affecting humanity and our mother planet Earth.
“Geo-scientific technology is advancing rapidly in the world,” noted David Gadsden, Director of Conservation Solutions, Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) Global. He was giving a keynote speech on Earth Observation Information in Environment and Development.
Gadsden added that as the human population continues to exert more pressure on the available resources, mapping is a fundamental language and framework helping us employ diverse dynamics towards a better solution by making sense of available resources and systems.
He also observed that Geographic Information Systems (GIS) finds its use in helping map and manage conflicts on land, water, and other resources use, managing space for institutions and businesses, health and transport sectors, and can also be used in planning for economic advancements using online servers and infrastructure.
Satellites in Health
Satellites and other technological advancements are significantly being embraced in the health sector.
In his paper on Nairobi Air Quality Monitoring for Health and Planning as a Geo-Innovation: a Geo-health Project (Kenya), Prof Augustine Afullo, a lecturer and researcher at the University of Nairobi demystified how pollution in the city has affected the masses, especially the children, destroying their respiratory organs and plunging them into sicknesses.
By use of data sourced and analyzed using scientific geo-information approaches on 1100 nine-to-twelve-year-old pupils, Prof Afullo found that 10% of children having 75% impaired lung functioning; half of them have an acute lung impairment.
The geo-innovative research concludes that “Nairobi City is polluted way above the health requirements, and negatively aggravating the health of the residents. Efforts to curb air pollution, as well as city planning for clean schools, are a priority,” reads the abstract.
He says that the use of geo-technology such as air-quality sensors (which are only two in Africa, one in Kenya and one in Ghana), and other scientific approaches helps in mapping such disasters and gives accurate data usable in the health sector and by government agencies to make better policies.
For instance, the location of schools in terms of nearness to dumping sites and high-pollution spots must be reviewed before the licensing of juvenile schools.
Satellites and Drones in Land and Agriculture
Fahari Aviation is an innovative wing under Kenya Airways (KQ). They have designed drones for use in agriculture, land surveying and monitoring of aircraft functioning to identify any mechanical malfunctioning and scratches.
Hawkings Musili, Fahari Aviation General Manager, gave a keynote address on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS/drone technology) for Improved Decision Making.
Vouching for the importance of efficient and accurate data collection, he noted that “inaccurate data undermines business results.”
Between 50-80% of the time goes into proofing data for accuracy and according to Musili, drones are time-saving, more accurate, and cheaper than satellites.
Fahari Aviation is using drone images to get more detail on the structural defects of airplanes at KQ. They can also be stored for future use.
Satellites are being used to monitor drought status in Eastern and Southern Africa, among other areas in Africa and the world over, as a mechanism for early warning and disaster preparedness. For example, GIS has been used to map and monitor gully erosion in Mwatate, Kenya.
However, all this data, whether collected through observation, drones, satellites, or whichever other approach, need to be standardized.
Machine Learning for Agriculture
Computers significantly shape how data can be collected, analyzed, and disseminated.
Abigael Fitzgibbon, a Colorado-based Researcher, demystifies the place of Machine Learning— the teaching of a computer how and where things are done and then allowing it to detect and monitor trends—in Agriculture.
Machine Learning is being incorporated to observe how Climate Change will impact wheat productivity in Northern Africa, Northern America, and the Middle East, among other regions.
Fitzgibbon and team, using GIS, developed a research model integrating sophisticated Machine Learning processes.
Through GIS, the researchers got high-resolution images, global maps, live dashboards, and other indicators to source, analyze and disseminate information on wheat suitability now and up to 2050.
“Our model tells us exactly where and to what extent wheat cultivation could be impacted by climate change,” says Fitzgibbon.
The research forecasts an overall reduction in wheat suitability, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.
Mapping Ecological Disasters from Space
As ecological disasters continue to rise, floods, droughts, and other climate-change-induced disasters keep knocking on our doors, the need for ecological democracy has never been as urgent before.
Different papers were presented on how drones, satellites and geospatial data have been used to map and monitor calamities from space.
Research papers and projects on Monitoring Coastlines from Space, Identification of Potential Fishing Zones Using GIS and Remote Sensing Along Kilifi Coastline, Monitoring Monthly Surface Area Variations of Ghana’s Tono Dama Using Sentinel 2 Imagery and GIS Solutions to Support Hazard, Vulnerability and Risk Assessment for Better Community Resilience, among others, were presented.
Could Technology Avert Climate Change Crisis?
In his Keynote Speech on “Drought is a global health crisis—capitalism could be a surprising solution,” Prof Evan Thomas, Director of Mortenson Center in Global Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, underscored the urgency of subverting climate change effects.
“Reduction of biomass fuel, which leads to deforestation and pollution, causing respiratory diseases, would reduce the effects of climate change through reduced emissions,” Prof Evan noted.
With over 25% of the world’s population lacking clean water for consumption, the use of sensors to monitor when water pumps break down in African countries and deploying personnel for repairs has been an effort to sustain Africans by ensuring the availability of water from wells.
“Geo-technology, GIS and Remote Sensing are being used to monitor population density and trends, rainfall and other factors to maintain a stable water supply in Africa,” Prof Evan disclosed.
All these efforts enable the identification of the availability, quality, and distribution of the world’s resources towards the achievement of the envisioned Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The geographer noted that 26% of the SDG Indicators require maps and geo-data to measure.
The different partners who graced the RIC2022 event seek to empower national agencies to access accurate and timely agricultural, land, water, and geospatial data for better, effective, and accurate decision-making.
Ecological Democracy remains a pertinent issue, even as every voice is being raised towards averting climate change.
According to Alexander Opicho, a lecturer and researcher at the RCMRD Institute, Nairobi, “there’s a need to domesticate technology to become part of the African culture.” This should be evident in African art and literature.
In Isa Shivji’s 2021 published works, Ecological Democracy is the equitable sharing of ecological resources among the present generation, between the present and future generations as well as among humanity, animals and plants.
Opicho called for Ecological Democracy while presenting his Research Paper on Analysis of Geospatial Themes in African Art, Poetry and Prose-a Case of RCMRD Library (Nairobi).
He opines Africa’s Cultural Scholars should be crusaders for achieving liberalized ecological democracy through their art.
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He quotes Senegal’s Prof Cheikh Anta Diop, who used geospatial evidence and data through imagery in his book, African Origin of Civilization, to explain how Africa is the cradle of humankind. He, therefore, holds that geospatial information should be passed through such works.
Opicho specifically underscores the need to record and publish such works, availing them to African Libraries because they are reliable sources of information.
The use of technology for mapping resources is our generation’s genius stroke.
It is the best tool we have for timely sourcing, synthesizing, and dissemination of accurate data for resilient social systems and effective decision-making.