On the Road

Woman and man sit at computer, while second man looks on

IFPRI’S Emily Schmidt helps train Tsegaye Birkneh (center) of the University of Hawassa and Abebe Mengesha (left) of the Bureau of Finance and Economic Development in GIS technology.Source: © 2012 H. Tilahun/IFPRI

In a vast, rapidly developing country like Ethiopia, data—about everything from literacy rates to the number of flour mills—is essential to policymaking. For the country’s Central Statistical Agency (CSA) and its regional branches, translating mountains of raw data into useful information to support policymaking in a timely manner is a major task.

In 2009, IFPRI’s Emily Schmidt, Mekamu Kedir, Hailu Shiferaw, and Helina Tilahun started to work with CSA’s statisticians on how to use geographic information systems (GIS), a cutting-edge database and mapmaking technology, to organize, manage, and visualize their huge databases. The CSA staff ultimately produced a series of atlases that provide in-depth information about the country.

Filling Data Gaps

But the CSA-IFPRI team didn’t stop there. They offered to take their training on the road to the country’s nine regional statistical offices in 2011. “The regional offices are aware of gaps in their datasets,” Helina says. “They are really concerned about increasing the capacity of their personnel so they can collect and report important data and indicators.”

At first, many were skeptical. “We weren’t sure it could be done,” says Schmidt. Given that technical courses outside of Addis Ababa are less common, it was unclear if resources needed for hands-on GIS training—such as computers and electricity—were available in more
remote areas.

The CSA-IFPRI team designed a pilot training program in the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region
(SNNPR) about four hours’ drive from Addis Ababa. When they arrived in Hawassa, the regional capital, they were pleased with what they found. The regional officials and university professors invited to attend the training were eager and willing to expand their skills. The local university hosting the training was equipped with brand new computers, ready to be unpacked from their boxes.

Crisscrossing Ethiopia

After the hardware was assembled, the first training went so well that Schmidt and her team spent the year crisscrossing the country to train staff in the eight other regional offices—including the remote Afar Region. The technical skills spilled over beyond the training courses: many of the professors who took part in the training used IFPRI’s materials to design university courses on computer-generated mapmaking and spatial database management. The CSA in Addis Ababa went on to analyze and publish its own atlas, and the regional branches of the CSA are now working together to update and maintain indicators on key infrastructure throughout the country.

The CSA-IFPRI training program has now traveled beyond Ethiopia’s borders to Malawi and Mozambique. Schmidt and Mekamu worked with staff in the two countries’ agriculture ministries to map and analyze spatial patterns of key agricultural indicators.

“This GIS technology can help institutions analyze and visualize their data in a more user-friendly manner,” says Schmidt. “For example, by mapping literacy rates or health indicators throughout the country, researchers and policymakers can identify exactly where they should conduct more in-depth research or expand programs
and interventions.”

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