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iKON: A Game-Changer for Pastoralists in Senegal

A new wave of African researchers is embracing transformative opportunities through the Small Innovation Grants Program (SIGP), implemented by SERVIR West Africa (SERVIR WA), a joint project between USAID and NASA, in partnership with ICRISAT, Manobi Africa and AIMS.

Over the past two years, SIGP has served as a catalyst for youth innovators like Ms Das Dores Ngueussie Ngamini, a Cameroonian national and member of the inaugural cohort in 2002, empowering them to revolutionize Earth Observation services in West Africa. Ngueussie’s project, “Tools and Processes for Reconciling Satellite/Model and Farmer Crowdsourced Information,” hosted at Columbia University and ICRISAT, has achieved significant milestones.Her main objective was to adapt the iKON game for pastoralists and implement it in Senegal. iKON, developed by Columbia Climate School’s, International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), fosters direct communication between pastoral communities and WENDOU (Water Environment Dashboard for Observation), supporting users in Ferlo, Senegal.

Ngueussie’s initiative empowered pastoralists to better understand the local climate context and facilitated the validation of WENDOU’s data products at the local level by its developer, the Centre de Suivi Ecologique (CSE).

“iKON is a game designed to evaluate farmers’ recollections of specific climate events from previous years. Within the iKON framework, a deployment resembles a folder on a desktop (referred to as iKON), containing the script (code used for all player questions and directions based on their responses), the database, users’ responses (all input answers are stored in an Excel file accessible to administrators), and other relevant information regarding the game’s location and objectives. The game operates through WhatsApp, where users initiate the game by sending a designated starting message from the deployment to the iKON number,” Ngueussie explained.

Drawing on her expertise and the collaborative efforts of the SERVIR WA project team members, Ngueussie specifically designed the iKON game. It was subsequently employed to assess the accuracy of the Water Environment Dashboard for Observation (WENDOU) in capturing the actual climate risks faced by communities in the Ferlo region.

“After obtaining a thorough understanding of the iKON game dynamics, for both administrators and regular users, we proceeded to develop new deployments. Through direct engagement with pastoralists and other community members in Senegal, we integrated their voices and experiences into the design and evaluation of climate risk instruments. The iKON game enabled farmers to provide feedback on past climatic events, thus improving the accuracy and effectiveness of WENDOU products,” she elaborated.

The iKON game was successfully tested in Dhara, Senegal, in October 2023. Representatives of pastoralists and other members of the WENDOU community of practice provided invaluable feedback. This real-world interaction validated the effectiveness of the iKON game.

Ngueussie thanked the SERVIR WA fellowship for invaluable exposure in a professional environment, noting that “meeting pastoralists’ representatives in Dahra, Senegal, and receiving feedback on the iKON game was a rewarding experience.”

She is currently assisting IRI in developing new deployments of the iKON game, which will include versions in local languages such as Pulaar.

This initiative broadens the reach and impact of WENDOU products, to offer crucial information on water ponds along transhumance corridors and to attract more users to the platform and making it possible for pastoralists not only to understand the satellite product, but also to inform it and coordinate with each other.

Once successfully deployed, WENDOU’s innovative technology will be readily available to pastoralists. This groundbreaking tool will empower each pastoralist group, enabling them to make well-informed decisions about their transhumance journey. This includes the selection of optimal corridors and a deeper understanding of their motivations for doing so.

Why is this work important and why are we doing it?

The technology is designed to function as a navigational guide, similar to how Google Maps operates for drivers. It will offer valuable data such as the number of pastoralists intending to use each corridor, their planned destinations, and the resources available along each route.

This technology promises to enhance the decision-making process for pastoralists in several ways significantly:

  1. Informed Decision Making: By providing crucial information about their transhumance journey, pastoralists will beavailable resources able to make well-informed decisions about which corridors to use and why.
  2. Efficient Navigation: The technology, designed to serve as a navigational guide akin to Google Maps for drivers, will assist pastoralists in planning and executing their journeys more efficiently.
  3. Effective Resource Management: The technology will provide data on the resources available along each corridor. This will enable pastoralists to manage their resources more effectively, ensuring the well-being of their livestock.
  4. Community Collaboration: The technology will also provide information on the number of pastoralists planning to use each corridor. This can foster a sense of community and collaboration among pastoralists, allowing them to coordinate their movements and share resources if needed.

In essence, this technology aims to support pastoralists as they modernize and streamline their work, expanding upon traditional practices, enhancing their efficiency and sustainability. It’s a game-changer, set to revolutionize the way pastoralists operate, making their work more efficient, sustainable, helping them transform their practices to harness modern technologies.

The current prototype is working with  pastoralists in northern Senegal, but the tool provides new opportunities to scale massively across Senegal to the entire reach of WENDOU, which currently covers many thousands of ponds, and to other countries reaching pastoralists to other sectors where there is a communication gap.

Commenting on Ngueussie’s fellowship journey at SERVIR WA, Dr Daniel Osgood, Lead Financial Instruments, Columbia University for SERVIR WA, described her contributions as “nothing short of phenomenal.”

“Das Dores Ngueussie Ngamini’s passion for innovation, coupled with her dedication to community engagement, has laid the foundation for transformative change in climate risk assessment and adaptation strategies.”

Given Ngueussie’s success, the project is exploring how it would be possible for her to continue her work in this area following the fellowship.

How does the iKON game work?

The iKON game is played on WhatsApp. A user initiates the game by sending a starting message defining the deployment to the iKON number.

  1. Starting Message: When a user sends a message to the iKON number to start the game, the bot responds with an introduction and instructions on how to play the game.
  2. Instructions: The bot provides clear instructions on what the user needs to do, such as selecting a region and then choosing the driest year within the past three years (2020, 2021, and 2022).
  3. Region Selection: The bot prompts the user to select one of the six designated regions in Senegal (Diourbel, Kaffrine, Louga, Matam, Saint Louis, and Tambacounda).
  4. Year Selection: After the user selects a region, the bot asks them to choose the year they believe was the driest within the past three years (2020, 2021, and 2022).
  5. Data Collection: The bot collects responses from users for each region and the corresponding year they consider to be the driest.
  6. Analysis: Once a sufficient number of responses are collected, the bot analyzes the data to determine the most commonly selected driest year for each region.
  7. Result Announcement: Finally, the bot announces the results, revealing the driest year in each region based on the user responses and the data collected from the WENDOU website and the satellite.

About Das Dores Ngueussie Ngamini

Ms Das Dores Ngueussie Ngamini earned a Bachelor’s degree in Physics and a Master’s degree in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Yaounde I. Her Master’s thesis focused on evaluating the impact of lead time on the Weather Research and Forecasting model’s ability to forecast extreme weather events in Cameroon. This work led to her receiving a fully funded scholarship to pursue another Master’s degree in Mathematical Sciences at AIMS Rwanda. During her time at AIMS Rwanda, she conducted research on simulating Tropical Cyclone Batsirai over Madagascar using observations and model predictions at various scales. As a recipient of the Small Innovation Grants Program (SIGP) from SERVIR WA, she was hosted at ICRISAT Dakar and Columbia University, focusing her research on developing tools and processes to reconcile satellite and model data with farmer-sourced information.

SERVIR WA 2 connects “space to the village” by helping West African countries use satellite data to address critical challenges in food security and agriculture, water and hydro-climatic disasters, weather and climate, land cover and land-use change, and ecosystems services. It is a joint project by USAID and NASA ​ being implemented ICRISAT and partners.