Turning the tables: could satellite guided goats help stop fires in Indonesia?

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Here at Pulse Lab Jakarta we are interested in emerging digital trends, data exhaust that is generated by technology use and the innovative ways data can be harnessed in the field of sustainable development.
REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is a global mechanism to mitigate climate change and, in the Indonesian context, to further sustainable development practices through improved land governance. When we heard that REDD+ are exploring use of satellite data and information to encourage goats to graze in a way that improves land management, reduces the risk of forest and peat-land fires while developing environmentally-friendly livelihoods, we wanted to learn more about these innovations. We caught up with John Paterson, senior advisor of the former National REDD+ Agency, to learn about his Green Goat Brigade concept.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
A: I have a background in history and literature and information technology. I initially focused on academic studies then I got interested in IT. But it was the Aceh tsunami in late 2004 that proved to be a turning point. Back then I often stopped in Indonesia to pay short visits. One visit coincided with the Aceh tsunami and I was very moved by the scale of the disaster and its consequences and ended up working in Aceh to help with the reconstruction and rehabilitation programme. At that time, I worked for the government agency responsible for the programme and have continued working for the government ever since. More recently I have been involved in the REDD+ Indonesia programme.
Q: What are Green Goat Brigades and where did you find the inspiration for this idea?
A: I have always been interested in animal husbandry because my family has been involved in sheep and cattle farming in Australia for generations. The idea of goat farming to prevent fires came to me after reading a blog about someone using satellite imaging to prevent goats from overgrazing. So I thought, why not turn this concept on its head and use satellite data and information to encourage goats to graze (rather than preventing them from doing it). This concept was further shaped by the work being done by the Big Rock GoatMapper project.
The idea of goat farms in Indonesia is not new but it occurred to me that goats could be a solution for a range of problems simultaneously. The large number of fire incidents in Indonesia is causing health and safety issues both locally and internationally, and causes deforestation and forest and peat-land degradation which contributes significantly to carbon emissions. The frequency and unpredictability of fires in Indonesia is partly attributed to the need for communities to clear land quickly and cheaply for planting crops and producing a livelihood. Further, the spread of fires is partly due to this type of uncontrolled burning, unmanaged vegetation and under growth and poor access to fires for mobile fire-fighters. So, could goat farms and mobile feeding pens prevent fires while, at the same time, support alternative livelihoods?
Q: How would this work exactly?
A: We would combine two basic activities:
1) the establishment of a goat (breeding) farm; and
2) the implementation of rotating goat feeding pens.
These feeding pens are mobile. Since we have the geospatial capacity to understand where fires frequently occur, and to some extent where they are most likely to occur in the future, we can map out areas that could be grazed through the mobile feeding pens.
The aim then is to establish a local goat farm consisting of around 240 goats and engage some 12 local farmers to manage the farm on land provided by the government. Design the goat farm to be self-feed sufficient by building a market garden, the produce of which would be sold, the garden off-cuts used to feed the farm goats, and the goat manure used to fertilize the garden.
Deploy 120 goats from the farm and engage around 12 local shepherds to run mobile feeding pens each of around 10 goats using a small solar battery electric wire fence to pen the goats and available geospatial datasets to determine the path of the mobile feeding pens which would rotate on a 2-weekly basis. These mobile feeding pens would construct fire-breaks to avoid the spread of fires and open access for fire fighters to suppress fires. It would take a couple of weeks for say 10 goats to clear some 100m2 of under growth. So, with 12 mobile feeding pens after six months a 2-meter wide fire-break of 7.2km long could be constructed. Of the 120 goats on the farm an estimated 150-200 kids could be produced annually enabling the mature goats to be sold at markets and thereby generate income, in addition to the market garden, for the 12 farmers and 12 shepherds. This would produce an alternative livelihood for 24 people who might otherwise use fire to clear land for planting crops.
The presence of a Green Goat Brigade rotating around vulnerable fire areas within a given province will improve current community efforts to monitor fires through increased awareness, and will help build a culture of fire prevention while providing alternative livelihoods for the local community. In addition, the project would engage the private sector, CSOs and other stakeholders to ensure broader cooperation in local land-management initiatives.
We will also use existing data and available technology to find out where fires are, where fires may be, who is responsible for them, and who is not doing anything about them.
So in fact we are not creating new technology for this activity, but rather repurposing an existing technology infrastructure and putting it to a different use.
Q: What area do you think would be the best to implement this concept?
A: Riau, South Sumatra and West Kalimantan are obvious candidates because of the high incidence of fires; it might be best to pilot the initiative near a national park or conservation area.
Q: What kind of support are you looking for?
A: We are looking for suitable partners on the ground who can help implement the project and help identify the right place, right time and right people to help implement. I think the support we would be looking for – apart from funding – would mostly be focused on broader stakeholder engagement. We would want to make sure that local communities are onboard and involved in co-designing the initiative, that the benefits are clearly communicated. It would be great to have communications and community relations’ experts contribute to the initiative.
Q: What kind of challenges are you expecting for implementation?
A: Based on experience, there might be some cultural issues to overcome: traditionally in Indonesia goats always live within the home and having cattle outside might create fears that they might be stolen. In addition, I can expect some nervousness around people moving freely through plantation areas. Conflict might also rise if the movement of the pens is not carefully monitored and I think this is where technology will be very helpful. Technology can be much more definitive about where they are and we can probably even provide very simple but good clear maps to the farmers.
We will need support from the local government to get the necessary permissions in place. The green tagging of the goats should also help in clearly branding the initiative and clarifying the purpose of the use of the goats.  Finally, farming goats should open up opportunities for local economic development and that should help foster buy-in.
Through a project like this, I believe Indonesia has a great opportunity to position itself as an innovator in the fight against climate change.
Top Image source: Rappler

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