GARBAL: An open GIS for livestock herders in Mali and Burkina Faso
2021-09-30, 09:00–09:30, Ushuaia

Livestock herders in Mali and Burkina Faso live under the twin threat of drought and armed conflict. Moving their herds to find pasture and water depends critically on access to reliable information. This talk discusses a call center that uses open Earth Observation imagery and field data to provide herders with information on pasture, water and market conditions. The talk will go over the architecture of the data treatment, demo the interface, talk about successes and failures and show how you can play with the data yourself.

Transhumance, or the seasonal movements of livestock herds to find pasture and water, is a centuries-old tradition in Mali and Burkina Faso. The process of selecting routes for movement hinges on a complex network of factors including customary access rights, pasture growth, rainfall, surface water, among others. However, years of climate change and armed conflict have made herding more precarious and prone to rapid changes. As a result, access to data on environmental and market conditions is critical for pastoralists. While satellite imagery has made much of this information readily accessible to the spatial community, few channels exist to transmit this information to herding communities.

In 2015, the GARBAL call center was built to provide this data to herders in Mali and Burkina Faso. The call center is powered by an open platform GIS built from remote sensing data on vegetation and water and field data on market prices and animal conditions. Herders calling the center are connected to an agent who uses dashboards to respond to their questions: Is pasture available near me? Is it crowded by other herds? Can I sell my goats for a good price? The call center’s goal is to provide herders with decision-making support in planning their routes.

The interface is built on mapserver and uses automated scripts to download and treat Sentinel 2 satellite imagery which then display information on pasture conditions and water availability. Field data is routed through a network of local data collectors who provide weekly updates on livestock conditions and market prices. In addition to an interactive map, the interface provides user-friendly textual outputs that summarize all the layers for any area of interest on the map, which allows call center agents to quickly provide data to callers.

This talk will share a number of the lessons learned from the STAMP project and provide a demonstration of the platform (which is openly accessible). Specific topics of discussion will include:
The architecture of the system- what worked and what didn’t
Maintaining regular field data collection in areas of ongoing active conflict
Building and translating GIS data for communities with low literacy
Examining the call records to see what data matters the most to users

You can use the platform at For more information, contact Alex Orenstein ( / @oren_sa)

Authors and Affiliations

Alex Orenstein, DaCarte (Dakar, Senegal)


Use cases & applications


FOSS4G implementations in strategic application domains: land management, crisis/disaster response, smart cities, population mapping, climate change, ocean and marine monitoring, etc.


1 - Principiants. No required specific knowledge is needed.

Language of the Presentation


Alex Orenstein is a cow mapper and drought specialist based in Senegal. For most of the past decade, he has used FOSS to encourage open-data solutions to understand food insecurity in West Africa, with a focus on the needs of livestock herding communities. Most of his work has been on developing tools and methods to track the changing movements of livestock herds as they respond to climate change. More information can be found on his website ( or twitter (@oren_sa).

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