Kenyan herders turn to grazing app to cut drought risks

A Kenyan herder shows his smart phone with the Afriscout app installed. (Photo courtesy of USAID)
Updated 07 May 2018
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Kenyan herders turn to grazing app to cut drought risks

  • The Afriscout app uses satellite images to identify where there is grass and surface water.
  • The app was developed by Project Concern International (PCI), a California-based development organization.

ARKAMANA, Kenya:  During times of drought, herder Buchu Boru has to walk tens of kilometers in search of pasture for his animals — with no guarantee he will find it.
“Somebody tells you by word of mouth that there is pasture but on arriving you don’t (find) any,” said the 60-year-old, who has had to walk from his home all the way across the Ethiopian border to find grass some years.
But next time the rains fail — an increasingly common problem in northern Kenya — he hopes a new mobile phone app will help him move his livestock to fodder without too much cost or waste of time.
The Afriscout app, which uses satellite images to identify where there is grass and surface water, “is better than what we are used to,” he said.
As climate change brings longer droughts and more unpredictable rainfall, herders often need to travel further and to less-well-known areas to find grass and water for their animals.
Technology that reduces the uncertainties associated with the journeys can help protect herds and incomes, making families more resilient to the harsher conditions, experts say.

Wrong advice
Boru and his neighbors normally rely on word-of-mouth to determine where to go, or they phone others in the region, or pay a scout to travel on a pasture-seeking mission.
But the hunt is time consuming, and sometimes goes wrong.
Boru vividly remembers, during a 2016 drought, traveling five days with his cattle, sheep and goats to Ambalo, 80 kilometers away, where he had heard there was pasture.
But “on arrival at Ambalo, there was no pasture. It was dry. I lost 13 cattle in total, some on the way and others in Ambalo,” Boru said.
With the app, “we will not be gambling with our livestock,” he said. “We will be very sure where the pasture and water is and we will just head there.”
Afriscout, developed by Project Concern International (PCI), a California-based development organization, launched in Boru’s area in February.
As well as providing detailed grazing maps showing water and grass conditions, herders can contribute information about livestock diseases, predators and conflicts.
The app so far has about 3,000 users in Kenya, though PCI hopes to increase that to 4,000 once it finishes mapping Samburu County, home to the Samburu herding community.
The app is already used in Tanzania and Ethiopia and PCI plans to deploy it in Niger soon, said Brenda Wandera, the organization’s acting representative in Kenya.
Twenty kilometers north of Boru’s village of Arkamana lies Kukub, where Liban Waqo lives with his 40 cattle, 30 goats and a dozen camels. The 57-year-old complains that drought is becoming more frequent and severe in his area.
“We have tried digging boreholes, some even 290 meters deep, but we were not successful. Fifteen boreholes have been dug but we found water in only one,” he said.
Now he has installed the PCI app on his phone and hopes that it will come in handy when the next dry season starts.

Few phones
The new app faces a few challenges, including limited mobile phone connectivity in some areas, and broad use of durable old-style mobile phones rather than more fragile smart phones.
So far, few herders in the region own smart phones — but that may change if they find the app useful, said Andrew Mude of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).
“We have seen evidence of pastoralists accessing smartphones when they recognize the value it delivers,” said Mude who helped pioneer the use of satellite imagery to trigger insurance payouts for herders when forage is scarce.
Mude says the app could be improved by including a broader range of information — including data about the market price of livestock.
The app could be part of a broader push to protect herders from worsening drought, helping them cut livestock deaths even as a government livestock insurance program helps them recover from unavoidable losses, he said.
This year, in Arkama village, spring rains have transformed the drought-scorched land and brought some respite. Once-empty ponds and dams are now full and there is enough grass to keep the villagers’ animals fed for at least another two months.
But herders say they cannot count on such conditions anymore — though they, and their animals, are happy this year.
“Now they do not have to go far for grass and water,” Boru said.

(Reporting by Anthony Langat)


Saudi Arabia in the crosshairs as cyber-raids target Gulf

More than 90 percent of malware is distributed by email with hackers seeking to trick users with fake invoices and other scams. (Shutterstock)
Updated 15 February 2019
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Saudi Arabia in the crosshairs as cyber-raids target Gulf

  • Cyberattacks were ranked as the second most important risk after an “energy shock” in these three Gulf states, according to the WEF’s flagship Global Risks Report 2019
  • Criminal phishing attacks rising sharply, cybersecurity experts warn

RIYADH: Online phishing attacks are on the rise with experts warning of increasing numbers of cyber-raids targeting Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
Phishing is a type of fraud where criminals target online victims, using deception to acquire users’ credentials, ranging from passwords to credit card and bank account details, and other financially sensitive information.
Cybersecurity experts say the numbers of attacks worldwide have risen dramatically, increasing from over 2 million in the first two weeks of February last year to more than 4.3 million in the same period this year.
Mohammed Khurram Khan, a professor of cybersecurity at King Saud University (KSU), told Arab News: “Saudi Arabia, due to its strong position in political, social and economic spheres, has been a key target for cyber-intrusions by state and nonstate actors aiming to compromise its national security.
“Various types of malware and scams, especially phishing, are used to target critical information infrastructure, which serve as the backbone of the economy,” he said.
More than 90 percent of malware is distributed by email with hackers seeking to trick users with fake invoices and other scams, said Khan, who is also the founder and CEO of the Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research, a Washington-based cybersecurity think tank.
“Computer users in Saudi Arabia have been confronted with more than 30 million phishing emails in recent years,” he said.
Khan said that awareness, training and “cyber-hygiene” were important to protect users and organizations from phishing scams.
KSU has developed a pioneering cybersecurity awareness product, “Rawam,” which helps organizations train employees to deal with malicious hacking, malware, ransomware, phishing and cyberattacks.
The bilingual tool has been used to train 100,000 staff in 40 different organizations, he said.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) last month warned of the growing likelihood of cyberattacks in the Gulf, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar particularly vulnerable.
Cyberattacks were ranked as the second most important risk after an “energy shock” in these three Gulf states, according to the WEF’s flagship Global Risks Report 2019, released ahead of the annual forum in Davos.
Cybersecurity experts from the Kaspersky Lab, a multinational digital security provider, detected a sharp increase in phishing activities on the eve of the Valentine’s Day.
The overall number of user attempts to visit fraudulent websites detected and blocked by Kaspersky Lab in the first half of February exceeded 4.3 million.
“The spike offers a reminder that we should be cautious when surfing the web, even if we are just buying flowers for our loved one,” said Andrey Kostin, a senior web content analyst.