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Revolutionising Rangeland Management in Africa with Earth Observation and AI

Updated: Apr 22


Africa Earth Observation AI
Source: CGIAR

Rangelands cover approximately 47% of the Earth’s land surface. In Africa, rangelands are vital ecosystems with significant ecological, economic, and cultural importance. Moreover, they are a significant source of income for local pastoral communities, offering grazing grounds for livestock, which is a fundamental source of their livelihoods. These vast shrubs and grasslands play a crucial role in climate change mitigation, acting as carbon sinks and contributing to the balance of the global carbon cycle.


African rangelands support a unique diversity and abundance of wildlife, including many species, contributing significantly to global biodiversity. They provide essential ecosystem services, including water regulation, soil fertility, and biodiversity, crucial for both local communities and global environmental health. Rangelands are integral to the cultural heritage of many African communities, shaping their ways of life, social structures, and traditions.


Challenges facing rangelands

African rangelands are encountering significant climate-related challenges that impact their sustainability and the livelihoods dependent on them:

·      Water scarcity: Increased temperatures exacerbate water scarcity, a critical issue for rangelands, affecting both the ecosystem and the communities that rely on them for survival.

·      Declining productivity: Climate change is influencing the productivity of communal rangelands, with factors like unpredictable rainfall patterns and higher temperatures affecting vegetation growth and livestock rearing.

·      Degradation and erosion: Rangelands are often perceived as degraded lands, facing issues like erosion, desertification, and drought, which are aggravated by climate change.

·      Livelihood vulnerability: The dependence of communities on forest and rangeland ecosystems makes them extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

·      Seasonal variability: Inconsistent and low rainfall leads to dry season pasture scarcity, challenging sustainable rangeland management.

·      Biodiversity and ecosystem impacts: Climate change is associated with loss of water sources, increased wildfires, lower forage quality, and accelerated plant invasions, impacting livestock and wildlife. 


Rangelands Kenya
Source: https://www.respira-international.com/portfolio/northern-kenya-rangelands/

Enhancing Rangeland Monitoring and Conservation with EO and AI

The integration of Earth Observation (EO) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies is transforming the field of rangeland management. These innovative tools offer comprehensive and real-time monitoring, enabling more informed and effective management strategies for rangelands globally. EO technologies, particularly satellite imaging, provide detailed and frequent observations of rangelands, capturing essential information such as vegetation cover, biomass, and water availability. This information is key for assessing the health and sustainability of these ecosystems.


AI complements EO by analysing the massive datasets collected, identifying patterns, and predicting future changes. Machine learning algorithms can forecast rangeland productivity, detect early signs of degradation, and suggest optimal grazing strategies. This AI-driven analysis is important for making informed decisions that ensure the long-term health and productivity of rangelands.


Masai Mara Earth Observations
Overgrazed Area and Grassland Biomass for Masai Mara Conservancy (source:deepplanet.ai)

The Future of Rangeland Management

The integration of EO and AI represents a significant advancement in rangeland management. By providing detailed, timely, and predictive insights, these technologies empower managers to make decisions that are not only beneficial for the present but also sustainable for the future of rangelands.


In conclusion, as we continue to embrace the potential of EO and AI, the future of rangeland management looks promising. These technologies offer a pathway to more resilient and productive rangelands, ensuring their vital role in our ecosystems and economies. Additionally, given the fact that rangeland management presents a complex challenge, it necessitates a coordinated and collaborative approach from multiple stakeholders, including land managers, researchers, policymakers, and community representatives - both globally and regionally, beyond the technological solutions.




About the Author

Catherine Akinyi Odera is an Earth Observation Project Manager at KappaZeta, where she oversees projects focusing on the use of Earth Observation (EO) and Machine Learning (ML) to address agricultural and climate-related challenges.




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