Eureka Moments with Google Earth in Ethiopia

Google Ethiopia

Community members in Hamus Gebiya lean over a giant satellite photo of their community. One of the farmers draws in the government offices with green marker. Photo by Benjamin Krause/CRS

Benjamin Krause, a CRS International Development Fellow in Ethiopia, sends in this story from the field.

A lot of Americans have used Google Earth to get a bird’s eye view of our houses, offices and schools. As you zoomed into your neighborhood, you probably first recognized the main roads and big bodies of water. Then you were able to pick out the biggest buildings, like your local mall or a business complex, as well as open spaces like parks and ball fields. Finally, you spotted your home. Can you remember that little eureka moment? (Or give it a try now.)

In Ethiopia, CRS is using this cutting-edge technology to empower communities and improve project management—and along the way, we’re creating a whole lot of big eureka moments for farmers, many of whom have never seen a map or heard about satellites.

How are we doing this? First we collect GPS data for our beneficiary communities. Then we print out giant satellite photos of each area on water-proof vinyl. When we put together all of the 3-foot-by-4-foot pages, the map of each project area is usually about 50 square feet!

We then take the maps out to the communities and lead the farmers through much the same experience you had with Google Earth. First they identify main roads and bodies of water. Then they mark the bigger buildings and major landmarks like government offices, schools and places of worship. From there they are able to locate community wells, irrigated land, areas of severe erosion, deforested areas and the different uses of croplands.

As we go through each step, one by one the community members start to get it. Farmers smile or laugh as they excitedly point to their homes or proudly outline their property on the map. Eureka moments abound.

After the farmers have finished drawing their “Participatory Community Maps,” CRS uses Google Earth to digitize all the information. This allows us to better understand where water is most scarce, where natural resource management is most needed and where new crops can make the biggest difference. Over time we will also be able use these maps for monitoring and evaluation to track changes and identify trends.

Finally, since the maps are made by the community, they ultimately belong to the community. Because they are printed on vinyl, the maps are extremely durable. Even in these remote villages, they will help the communities to better manage their land and resources for years to come.

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