Geographical Information Systems (GIS) can play a very positive role in the development of East African countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda. Combining data about economic facilities and activities with online maps and GPS technology can create practical and efficient web solutions that help steer development, says Kenya-based GEO and GIS expert Mark de Blois.
Geographical Information Systems – GIS – may seem complex to you, but wait until you find out about Mark’s GIS solution for agricultural Africa, based on mobile dairy data collection. The idea is to locate farmers, milk collection points and milk collection routes. The data collected is presented digitally on maps, making it easy to be analysed to improve the daily logistics of the collection and – ultimately – to improve income generation for the farmers and livelihood improvement.
“It is not hard to see the potential of it for agricultural organisations in Africa that want to improve the lives of farmers”, says Mark de Blois. “I think GEO and GIS services can make a huge contribution to the development of Africa. More than 80 percent of the information that we use every day has a spatial component. An image (e.g. a map) also speaks more than a thousand words. Reports are often tough to consult – and are thus often not consulted – but online maps are easily accessible. Visualising information on online maps makes information easier to grasp – and easier to work with.”
“Good spatial planning should be based on good and reliable basic information. The more digital spatial information is online, the more transparency there is to citizens, donors and end users.” In the case of the farmers’ GIS system, presenting the information about regional milk production on a map with roads may enhance logistics planning and stronger farmers’ cooperations.
Access to data
Kenya is a good market for GIS, as the use of mobile internet is widespread, even with basic $ 100 smartphones from Huawei. “Getting access to certain data can still be a problem to make our solutions work, as some institutions still consider data as a vital and strategic asset that needs to be kept ‘secret’. This is changing slowly.”
De Blois, raised in Kenya as the son of missionaries, returned to his childhood country after graduating in The Netherlands and working there for ten years as well as 2 years in the UK. After working for Google Maps in Africa for some time, he founded Upande in 2009 to provide internet, web mapping and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) solutions to business clients, UN organizations, Government, NGO’s and the public sector.
Great new solutions
Upande’s team of experts is currently working on some great new solutions, most of them with a strong ‘data visualisation’ component. One project may be a valuable solution to Kenya’s water sector, offering management tools to keep track of water usage, leaks in the distribution system and illegal water tapping. “A visual presentation of realtime water production, distribution and consumption data offers a powerful management tool for water companies”, Mark adds, “a tool that will eventually benefit the lives of many people.”