Pastoralists make up a large segment of Senegal's economy, providing approximately 15% of GDP. The necessary practices of seasonal migration, however, are being threatened by decreasing land capacities and competition among herders. To address these concerns, the veterinary science and medicine school of Dakar has partnered with IDRC to encourage pastoralists to adopt sustainable practices. The initiative, nicknamed "Cyber Shepherd," outfits pastoralists with Global Positioning Systems, cellular phones, and Internet-capable computers. The state ecological monitoring center has provided training in these technologies for the pilot communities. So far, Cyber Shepherd has allowed herders to make better decisions about where to graze their flocks, and when to migrate to best avoid natural disasters. Better information about pasturelands and watering holes is crucial for the survival of pastoral husbandry in Senegal, and is being enabled by Cyber Shepherd.
As an advocate for the private sector and technology playing a greater role in development, I'm often met with skepticism and concern that this will inevitably lead to the destruction of local cultures and lifestyles. While there are certainly instances where this may be the case, this project is a great example of how the opposite is also true. With the right support and training, technology tools can be used to help indigenous cultures not only survive, but also thrive.