IGP Stories

Data Hunting in the Mara and Mau Forest

PROCOL Kenya Africa

Professor Jacqueline McGlade

Deep in Tinderet forest, a data revolution is taking shape. Community members from the Maasai Mara and across the Mau Forest are working together to see how the forest measures up. Equipped with the latest data from space missions plus tape measures and clinometers, they are deploying their collective ancient wisdom to map the size and health of the medicinal trees and the ecosystem services provided by the forest.

Led by researchers at Strathmore University Business School, the Institute for Global Prosperity at University College London and PROCOL Kenya at the British Institute In Eastern Africa, the Mau and Mara teams are building the first community data block in the Africa Regional Data Cube (ARDC). The ARDC, normally known for providing access to user-ready space data, is enabling localised earth observations to be made accessible to country and national government agencies, local farmers, villagers and elders alike, through the use of big data analytics.

The data is collected by communities through smart phone applications such as Sapelli, which provides accurate geolocation as well as a pictorial record of the species of a tree or plant, including its traditional name, size and health provision, By providing accurate earth observations, the mapping can be used to design and create innovative, global value chains linking local Maasai and Mau forest communities with markets and nature lovers worldwide.

This move is being seen as the development of new types of services and products by the Mau Forest communities which includes i-auditable carbon storage for climate offsetting, specialised foods, such as coffee, tea and fruits, traditional medicines and fibre products for fashion, and design products.

In the Maasai Mara, it’s more about enriching the experience of visitors all year round, giving people the opportunity to take virtual tours of the plants and animals in this spectacular landscape, and listen, though live-feed, to the hundreds of birds and animals to be found there.

What is novel about these engagements is that they have been generated by a new type of innovation process, with the PROCOL Kenya experience based on co-labs, where co-creation and co-design are used to develop sustainable pathways to greater community prosperity.

“Combining big data, sensing technologies and artificial intelligence with natural, ecological and indigenous intelligence is what makes the PROCOL Kenya approach both novel and sustainable.”
Prof Jacqueline McGlade

The PROCOL Kenya process combines big data, novel sensing technologies and artificial intelligence with natural, ecological and indigenous intelligence. The resulting open source approach allows communities to share experiences and data, whilst ensuring that unique resources remain protected, and is supported by smartphone applications. And where needed, sponsored data contracts to remove barriers to participation.

These new data analytics and technologies are part of a new index to measure what communities consider necessary for leading a good and prosperous life – “maisha bora”, which Maasai community calls, “dupotu, sobet nonyolu”, rather than Gross Domestic Product.

The Prosperity Index includes community- based, evidence-driven approach presents a powerful way of finding innovative local solutions that can scale up in different parts of the world.

With global spending on artificial intelligence forecast to reach $52bn by 2021 and transformations in energy and communications technologies set to transform accessibility to knowledge by millions of people, it is imperative that local communities are given a voice and the technological means to drive innovations that are socially meaningful and which can provide local prosperity in the future.

Professor Jacqueline McGlade is Professor of Environment and Sustainable Development at the Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) and lead scientist for PROCOL Kenya. She tweets @jacquiemcglade.

This article is republished with the kind permission of Business Daily Africa.

Image credit: Derived from Michael Mole on Unsplash

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