Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Providing GIS Support in West Africa using Open Source Software

Earlier this month I spent a week in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso providing GIS support to a research methods meeting of the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP). The CCRP is funded by the McKnight Foundation, and I was invited to work on the project by my friend and colleague Karsten Vennemann who has been working with McKnight for the past few years on a variety of projects.

When I agreed to work with Karsten on this project and told friends and family I would be traveling to Burkina Faso, the inevitable initial response was "Where's that?!?" It is in West Africa, bordered by Mali and Niger to the west and east, and by Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, and Benin to the south.
A close up of the locator from one of the CCRP maps. Burkina Faso is the red area.

Ouagadougou is the capital of Burkina Faso, and is located in the center of the country in a region of Africa known as the Sahel, where the Sahara transitions to the forests closer to the equator and the Atlantic coast.
Ouagadougou is in the center of this map; red points represent CCRP project sites (based on data we had available prior to the workshop)

The workshop was attended by 24 CCRP grantees, with two attendees from each of 12 projects located in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Support staff included Dr. Ric Coe and Dr. David Stern from University of Reading, Dr. Bettina Hausman  from the University of Hohenheim, Dr. Hamado Tapsoba (based in Ouga), and me. The workshop was conducted in French, which presented certain difficulties for me at times, but fortunately Bettina and David were able to translate for me as necessary.

Group shot of workshop participants, taken at the end of the week

Hamado was the overall workshop facilitator, and was assisted throughout by Bettina.

Hamado facilitating

Ric provided 'live' research study design. Below is a picture of him working with Moussa and Zoumana; they are sitting in front of the rest of the attendees discussing their research on Fonio, and he is helping them fine tune their methodology.

Ric, Moussa, and Zoumana

David provided assistance with statistical analysis, and he actually kicked off the entire workshop with a demonstration of ODK to illustrate how it can serve as a useful research tool for gathering data in the field.

Throughout the week, I worked in a consultative capacity with the project teams and helped them map their data and in a few cases do some preliminary spatial analysis. I managed to work with 11 out of the 12 teams. We used open source tools for everything, relying primarily on QGIS to generate data and maps for the projects.

Working with Laouali, an entomologist from Niger working on the GIMEM project, which aims to reduce the damage done by the pearl millet head miner

Here I am working with the Processing team, Fatou Bah and Moustapha Moussa. She is based in Burkina Faso and he is based in Niger.

Here are a few examples of maps I made with the research teams:

Bambara nut average yield in Kg/Ha

Fonio extent of cultivation with study sites, landcover, and isohyets

GIMEM sites in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger with study sites and landcover

Areas of climatic similarity for Seed Systems sites in Mali relative to the balance of the CCRP West African Region. The redder the cell, the higher the climatic similarity; the greener, the lower. I created this map using Homologue

I spent the vast majority of my time in Ouaga inside the hotel. However, I did have some time to explore the hotel grounds and the area immediately around the hotel. It was extremely hot the entire time I was there (mid-100s F during the day). There were a lot of lizards around (and occasionally in) the hotel where the workshop was held.
Rainbow agama, one of many species of lizards around (and occasionally in) the hotel
I'd read about millet beer prior to making the trip, and at our group dinner, David very helpfully asked the locals where I might be able to try some. Hamado expressed some reservations about doing so at a local village, explaining that he got terribly sick after drinking millet beer at one of the attendee's villages! A couple of days later, he gave me this:

RAAM, a (safe!) locally brewed millet beer, given to me by Hamado
The closest thing I can compare it to is a Belgian sour beer. It had a lot of interesting flavor notes, but on balance, I couldn't get past the sourness. Not my favorite beverage of all time, but at least I got to try it!

Parc Urbain Bangr Weogo, an excellent urban birding location
My flight did not leave Ouagadougou until 11 pm the day after the workshop ended, so I hired a cab to take me out to Parc Urbain Bangr Weogo at sunrise, a very large park northeast of the hotel. It has a variety of habitats, including scrub, riparian forest, and ponds. My main objective was to do some birding, and I was shocked at the diversity of species--I saw over 50 species in two hours! Truly remarkable. Highlights were the northern red-billed hornbill, African paradise flycatcher, Hoopoe, pied kingfisher, and little green bee eater.

I also saw a crocodile in one of the ponds.

When it started to get warm, I asked the taxi driver take me to the Village Artisanal de Ouaga, a government run market where local artisans sell their wares. It was refreshingly hassle-free and a great place to check out a wide variety of locally produced goods, including masks, jewelry, drums, tapestries, and bronze. Unfortunately there were very few tourists there, and all of the artisans were working hard and producing some pretty high quality work. I wanted to buy something from every one of them, but in the end purchased masks, jewelry, and bracelets from five different vendors.

Some of the wares on offer at the Village Artisanal de Ouaga

Overall, the visit was intense, occasionally challenging, and very productive. I truly enjoyed working with all of the researchers and the support staff, and hope to return to the region again someday to continue working with the CCRP projects. And maybe do a little more birding and exploring!


JMass said...

Nice summary of your trip Matt! Sounds like an interesting place. I didn't know you were an ornithologue also - 50 birds in a few hours is quite impressive!

pramod said...

Great work Matt in the GIS field, liked your blog and this article too. I am also a GIS blogger and work full time as a GIS analyst.