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AfriGEOSS: An initiative to reinforce Earth observation in Africa

The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) has launched the AfriGEOSS initiative, which aims to coordinate the implementation of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) and related Earth observation activities in Africa.

Africa country mapSupported by the GEO Secretariat and recognized by the Executive Committee, this initiative seeks to identify the challenges and then put in place measures to enhance Africa’s participation in, and contribution to, GEOSS. This participation will contribute to the continent’s efforts to bridge the digital divide and to build a knowledge-based economy using GEO networks and the GEOSS infrastructure.

The GEO partnership currently includes 22 Member states and four Participating Organisations from Africa. As the number of African Members has reached a critical threshold in recent years, this is an appropriate moment to assess the progress they have made thus far in implementing and using GEOSS and other Earth observation and environmental management initiatives.

AfriGEOSS, then, is dedicated to linking GEO’s current activities with Africa’s existing capacities and initiatives in order to enhance capacity for producing, managing and using Earth observations.

The objectives of AfriGEOSS are as follows:

  • coordinate and bring together relevant stakeholders, institutions and agencies across Africa that are involved in GEO and other Earth observation activities;
  • provide a platform for countries to participate in GEO and to contribute to GEOSS, and assist them in establishing national and regional coordinating mechanisms;
  • assist in promoting knowledge sharing and global collaborations;
  • identify challenges, gaps and opportunities for African contributions to GEO and GEOSS;
  • leverage existing capacities and planned assets and resources; and
  • develop an appropriate strategy and participatory model for achieving the above goals.

The AfriGEOSS Action List

AfriGEOSS is proposing the following initial actions in order to realize its objectives:

1) Engage with appropriate regional agencies and training centres.

Collaboration on establishing or strengthening regional capacity building networks has already taken place through the GEO Capacity Building Committee (which from January 2012 has been integrated into the new Institutions and Development Board) and the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) Working Group on Capacity Building and Data Democracy.

These mechanisms complement the ability of the GEOSS Common Infrastructure (GCI) to provide end users with access to data, information, products and services. They recognize that the provision of education and training programmes focusing on the development of open-source software and open systems, and the development of acquisition and dissemination mechanisms, need to take into account the challenges of limited bandwidth in many developing countries.

The UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the Kenya-based Regional Centre for Monitoring of Resources for Development (RCMRD) and the Environmental Information System (EIS-Africa), each with extensive experience in geospatial activities, will assist AfriGEOSS. They will use their networks to ensure that effective and well coordinated education and training activities are established, and they will support the creation of networks amongst other relevant agencies.

A number of existing regional training centres will play significant roles in GEOSS regional coordination. They include the African Centre of Meteorological Information for Development (ACMAD, Niger), the Regional Centre for Training in Aerospace Surveys (RECTAS, Nigeria), the Regional Centre for Training and Application in Agrometeorology and Operational Hydrology (Centre Regional de Formation et d'Application en Agrométéorologie et Hydrologie Opérationnelle – AGRHYMET, Niger), the African Regional Centre for Space Science and Technology Education (CSSTE, Morocco), the African Regional Centre for Space Science and Technology Education (CSSTE, Nigeria). These institutions will use their existing regional networks, infrastructures and programmes to promote GEOSS.

2) Identify coordinated infrastructure pilot projects that promote societal benefits.

Proposed priorities are ground stations to support a coordinated data acquisition strategy for Africa, the African Resources and Environmental Management Constellation (ARMC), and AfricaGeoSat-1, among others.

  • Coordinated data acquisition strategy for Africa. The ability to downlink data directly for processing will strongly support the development of timely downstream applications, products and services. This will substantially expand access to, and the use and application of, Earth observation data for policy- and decision-making. Such services will provide significant societal benefits, particularly in the areas of disasters (fires and floods), disease outbreaks and natural resources management. Several ground stations already exist, but because they are not interoperable their full potential for supporting research, applications and human capital development has not been realised. To remedy this situation, GEO can provide a coordination mechanism for promoting interoperability involving interfaces, common file formats, common dissemination standards, etc. The first step will be to engage the ground stations in Kenya (Malindi), Egypt (NARSS), South Africa (SANSA), Nigeria (NARSDA), Gabon and Algeria (ASAL). Implementing this strategy will complement the data policy of the African Resources and Environmental Management Constellation (ARMC).
  • African Resources and Environmental Management Constellation (ARMC). The ARM constellation initiative will provide Africa with timely, free, open and unrestricted access to medium to high resolution data over Africa for natural resources management applications. The countries involved (currently Algeria, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa) are collaborating on sustaining and expanding indigenous human capital to support space programmes in Africa.
  • AfricaGeoSat-1 Project. The AfricaGeoSat-1 Core Team as outlined in the GEO 2012-2015 Work Plan will work on promoting the AfricaGeoSat-1 project (for a dedicated African geostationary imaging space system) to regional agencies and key role players across Africa. It will also finalize the technical specifications of the space system by consolidating requirements (e.g. for capacity building). The project’s scope also covers identifying synergies with existing and planned systems and linking AfricaGeoSat-1 unique applications with ongoing activities (e.g. in forestry, agriculture and water management).
  • African Monitoring of the Environment for Sustainable Development (AMESD) and Monitoring of Environment and Security in Africa (MESA). AMESD has improved access to Earth observation data, established operational information services and strengthened political and policy frameworks for environmental monitoring and sustainable management of natural resources. MESA is expected to be funded by the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) and will start this year. It will ensure that there is continuity in the work done at the conclusion of AMESD.

3) Identify coordinated pilot projects that promote societal benefits.

Proposed priorities are agriculture and food security, forestry, renewable energy (biomass and solar), health and water. For example:

  • Bio-Energy Atlas for Africa. This project aims to develop a Bio-Energy Atlas for Africa to provide information on the quantity, distribution, uses and quality of biomass.
  • GEO Forest Carbon Tracking (FCT) and Global Forest Observations Initiatives (GFOI). An operational global network of national forest monitoring systems is needed to, inter alia, support reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). Three African countries, namely Cameroon, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are currently serving as “National Demonstrators”.
  • The Meningitis Risk and Information Technology project (MERIT). This collaborative effort of the World Health Organization (WHO) and members of the environmental, public health and epidemiological communities focuses on the Sub-Saharan region of Africa.

4) Promote data democracy and data sharing.

GEO is involved in the reconfiguration of the CEOS Working Group on Capacity Building and Data Democracy (WGCBDD), which will be fully aligned with the GEO 2012-2015 Work Plan (Institutions and Development chapter). The intention is to engage African agencies in implementing GEO’s Data Democracy and Data Sharing tasks. These tasks will improve access to data by strengthening the understanding of individuals and institutions of technology limitations, proper dissemination methods and relevant software tools. They will emphasize the development of open-source software and open systems. They will encourage academic institutions to collaborate, and they will also support education and training for various existing programmes.

5) Organize sessions on GEO and GEOSS at premier African conferences.

Relevant events for promoting GEO and GEOSS include those organized by the African Association of Remote Sensing for the Environment (AARSE), AfricaGIS and other forums. Current plans include holding a session on AfriGEOSS and a Plenary presentation at AARSE 2012 in Morocco. The focus will be on encouraging African countries to become GEO Members and to actively participate in GEO tasks.

6) Organize regional workshops.

These workshops will focus on coordinating and strengthening existing regional capacities. The aim is to provide support for regional agencies to conduct workshops that will identify priority societal benefit areas and that can demonstrate how regional coordination can be enhanced to ensure active participation in implementing GEOSS and building AfriGEOSS.

These two-day workshops are planned to be held during the July – November 2012 period. The focus will be on existing regional activities and priorities, discussions on the GEO Work Plan and GEOSS, and the identification of areas for coordination via pilot projects.

Making AfriGEOSS a reality

With the AfriGEOSS concept now in place, African governments and organizations should start considering actions to supplement the initial funding from South Africa. Active participation in GEO activities will expose African experts to global collaborations and improve their access to data and open-software tools for applications development. This will generate huge benefits to society, help to sustain existing capacities, bring in new knowledge and, most importantly, provide a large return on investment. 

For more information, please contact Humbulani Mudau at the GEO Secretariat.