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View the documentRemote sensing and rural development a better grasp of the phenomena of deserfffication

Remote sensing and rural development a better grasp of the phenomena of deserfffication

by Robert Gregoire

On 27 and 28 November, Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, hosted a meeting marking the end of phase one of a number of studies in which remote sensing was used to highlight the dynamics of desertification on the southern periphery of the Sahara. These studies were part of the Community drought and desertification control programme and, as such, were paid for by the Commission budget. More specifically, the idea is to help the governments in this part of the world to combat the decline in the natural factors of production by giving them a better grasp of the dynamics of the principal phenomena of desertification.

The aim of the work, run on behalf of the Commission’s Directorate-General for Development (this time with the scientific backing of the Joint Research Centre at Ispra) by seven European research bodies in Ireland, the UK, Denmark. Germanv. Belgium. France and Italy, was to perfect methods of remote sensing that would give a clearer idea of the dynamics ol desertif~cation. It began in 1984 and involved:

- estimation of rainfall from satellite data;

- continuous monitoring of wind erosion;

- quantitative and qualitative estimation of the ligneous biomass used mainly for firewood;

- continuous monitoring of the Sahel grazing land;

- prospecting for underground water near the surface in the Sahara and Sahel;

- production of a hydrological model of the upper Senegal basin: - studies of energy and water in various plants grown in th. Sudano-Sahel area;

- development of a cheap satellite data processing system suitable for West Africa.

A meeting to summarise these data at the Joint Research Centre in Ispra in June 1990 revealed that a number of the subjects of research could, on certain conditions’ be transferred to potential regional and national users as they stood. One or two years’ further investigation and experimentation were called for to validate methods in other cases, however, but this was something which could be done by mixed African and European research teams, with the existing local structures leading the way and European teams providing any backup.

A proper transfer of technology would thus be possible in both cases.

The idea of the Ouagadougou meeting, on the threshold of phase two, was to provide an interface between part of the study strongly dominated by European money and men and a further, Africandominated stage with financing partly from LomV regional funds and possibly national sources too.

At the meeting were 13 nations from West Africa (Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Cole d’lvoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal), two from the Maghreb (Algeria and Tunisia), five regional organizations (the CILSS, the CRTO, AGHRYMET, the IGAAD and UNPE/UNSO), the Sahara-Sahel Observatory, the seven European coinvestigators and a large delegation of staff from the Commission, DG VIII and the Ispra Joint Research Centre and Delegation advisers.

Discussions about the transfer of technology, which focused on what to transfer, how to transfer it and to whom, were along two main lines.

1. Telling national and regional leaders how remote sensing can help make a betterjob of managing the natural factors of production (water, soil, vegetation and the West African microclimate). But pointing out the limitations too. The basis for this was:

a) the seven European research centres’ results, which representatives put over in such a way as to be understandable to non-specialists;

b) the programme monitoring team’s (French and English) report on remote sensing in the Sahel environment, summarising the results of the seven co-investigators, together with similar work carried out elsewhere in the world and some thoughts on the ways of transferring technology, which has since been very widely distributed by our Delegations in West Africa and by the CTA.

2. Discussing the design of a transfer system for study activity - the bulk of which has so far been run by European research units - with the African partners.

The wide ranging origins of the Ouagadougou participants (25 people from Ministries of Planning, Finance, Agriculture, the Environment etc. 25 remote sensing experts and 10 Commission staff) show that the aim of informing rural development decision-makers was partly achieved.

The following recommendations on transferring research activities to African partners were made and participants passed them on to the governments and decision-makers.


1. Subject activity

Diagnosis of the environmental conditions required for better management of the natural factors of production (water, soil, vegetation and the microclimate).

2. Practical proposals for partnership in ten nsfer activities (N ortb-South, So utbNorth and South-South)

A protocol enshrining data exchange and the joint running of activities.

- This would mean that the countries of the South could help devise technology and thus make a bigger contribution to decision making.

Running activities means adapting the results of existing but as yet not fully operational methods and diagnoses to local conditions and developing a new methodology. It does, of course, involve training technical cadres locally and elsewhere. The meeting stressed the importance of training - to be provided, in particular, by existing national and regional organizations here.

The arrangements for all this are to be laid down in partnership agreements. Proposals can be made at both regional and national levels.

3. Gradual adjustment of the transfer to beal conditions

This means implementing projects over a four- or five-year period.

The adjustments will be made gradually, with regular evaluations geared to inserting the results of applied development research into the programmes of activities.

4. Priority applications

The West African geographical area has to be described as a whole. Teams of partners and a steering group have to be set up downstream to:

- foster contact between the partners;
- make the partnership activity dynamic;
- ensure cohesion between activities and programmer.

5. LomV financing

It is highly desirable for these programmes to be financed under LomV regional financing agreements - and over a period of four or five years if they are to be effective. They will be assessed in the usual Lomay.

The recommendations show that the participants are anxious to:

1) carry on with the study programme, but this time through partnerships involving both African and European study teams, with the African teams taking the lead. These partnerships, grouped into a network in the sub-region covered by the invitation to tender, will be run and coordinated by a permanent European expert living in Africa. Where need be, hewill be backed up in particular areas by ad hoc working parties comprising people from the partnership teams and one or two highly qualified experts;

2) strengthen the weak link in the remote sensing utilisation chain - i.e. the national remote sensing unit in each country concerned, which is connected to the other units in the West African subregion.

Each of these units, as interface for the final user, will:

- pass on questions and requests from the grass roots;
- disseminate information from outside and adapt it to the local situation;
- coordinate remote sensing programmes at national level;
- capitalise on the knowledge of specialists trained elsewhere by fitting them into a system where their technical skills can be used and perhaps improved.

The infrastructure, equipment, staff training and operating costs will have to be undervatten by external aid for years to case --Las PA Satellite receiver sty- in the Canaries and regional mats such as Aghrymet in Niamey.

The bulk of the Community financing will come from the LomV regional programme for West Africa, with an additional amount from the Commission budget.

Examples of partnership studies involving getting a national remote sensing unit off the ground are:

Cape Verde

Inclusion of relief in the evaluation of natural ground resources by remote sensing.

Spatial distribution of water resources in relation to vegetation and soil runoff potential.

Quantitative diagnosis of agricultural output.

All spatial data (on rainfall, runoff potential and vegetation) to be integrated into a geographically and administratively defined geographical information system. Duration - three years.

Partnership - Cape Verde: INIA

- Europe: IRAT/CIRAD.


(with possible extension to Guinea Bissau, Cote d’lvoire and Ghana)

Monitoring of brush fires by remote sensing.

Three aspects to be studied:

- the fire calendar;
- the geographical area affected by fires at any given time;
- the effect of a fire season on the plant cover (various types of environment and cover).

All data to be integrated into a geographically and administratively limited geographical information system to make it easier for users to work in the field. Duration - four years.


- Guinea: Map study unit of the Directorate-General for Forestry
- Europe: University of Geography of Copenhagen (CHIPS software) and the Joint Research Centre at Ispra.

A partner, as yet to be located, to prepare pictures in the early stages.

In conclusion, it is worth pointing out that the new phase of study and action discussed at the Ouagadougou meeting has substituted Management of the natural factors of production’ for the more restrictive ~desertification’ end that the programme impact zone is now the whole of West Africa rather than just the Sahel.

The realities of the terrain thus confirm, if indeed any confirmation were needed, the LomV authors’ desire to make the management of the natural factors of production in all countries and all climates one of the essential aims of the Conventions