Planet Images and Graphics by: Max Borrmann and Rob Simmon with support from Owen Troy, Steve Levay and Mendy Van Der Vliet.
As our satellites pass over regions of Kenya and Tanzania, they capture a tremendous transformation taking place on the ground. Land that has been dry and parched for years now grows green grasses and young trees. Rainwater revives the earth and supports restored and thriving indigenous African ecosystems. This metamorphosis is the impact of collaborative efforts between local pastoral communities and Justdiggit, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting land restoration through nature-based solutions. And using our satellite data, including SkySat, PlanetScope and Planetary Variables, Justdiggit quantifies, evaluates and scales these transformative projects with tangible metrics.
Aptly named, Justdiggit helps local farmers and herders in Tanzania and Kenya use accessible tools, like shovels, to dig bunds, semicircular-shaped pits that help the soil catch rainwater. In areas affected by drought and loss of natural vegetation, the top layer of soil can harden and act as a seal, but by digging through the dry layer, rainwater can drain off and hydrate the parched earth . This ancient practice of regeneration cools the temperature of the region by allowing native grasses and trees to regrow, and this landscape change can be captured by Planet’s satellite imagery. Justdiggit uses mobile technology, data and communication to increase their impact on the African continent and raise global awareness of nature-based solutions.
“Building the future we want will require that we not only live sustainably, but in a restorative waysaid Andrew Zolli, director of impact at Planet. “The surest path to that is to support culturally relevant and ecologically sound practices with new tools, and that’s exactly what’s happening here. We couldn’t be more proud to see our data, products and services used in this way.
With 300,000 hectares being re-greened, Justdiggit and its partners have already brought back more than 10 million trees in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the past year, Planet, the European Space Agency (ESA), the University of Leicester and Justdiggit have launched the Restore-IT project, focused on evaluating and quantifying the success of their re-greening initiatives. In this project, Justdiggit used our PlanetScope and Planetary Variables products to measure the impact of their restoration projects in Tanzania and Kenya.
Through the PlanetScope image scan, captured at 3 meter resolution, Justdiggit received high temporal resolution data from their sites, helping to assess discrete changes over time. Measurements of planetary variables quantified soil water content and soil surface temperature, allowing Justdiggit to assess how many liters of water were retained by the soil, how many degrees the surface cooled and how much vegetation has grown since the bunds were dug. Beyond this project, Justdiggit also loads our high-resolution SkySat satellites which allow them to visualize the extent of their re-greening efforts over time, visualizing landscape change at 50cm resolution.
Tanzanian community members dig large bunds in Pembamoto, Tanzania, with support from Justdiggit. Video courtesy of Justdiggit.
“The key is to show the long-term, landscape-level impact,” said Sander de Haas, CTO and re-greening expert at Justdiggit, explaining that planetary data was used throughout the design process. restoration – from planning to evaluation – and provided valuable data to communicate comprehensive measures to donors and partners.
“I focus on site selection, trying to identify from remote sensing analysis which sites are suitable for our types of interventions. By having access to SkySat data, we are able to load images from the site. If indeed, it is an interesting site, then we send a team to verify the situation on the ground, collect samples and talk to the community,” continued de Haas. Having established long-term relationships and partnerships in the region, Justdiggit spearheads landscape restoration efforts and community education.
On the ground, herders live with their cattle while wildlife, such as zebras and gazelles, graze on newly grown grasses from the bunds. Our SkySat images capture the extent of landscape regreening over months, while our planetary variable datasets help assess which regions are succeeding, providing scientific insights for improving future projects.
“While the impact of our projects is evident if you walk through the tall grass of an area that was previously barren, it is difficult to capture that impact in quantifiable impact metrics that people can relate to,” said de Haas. “By using Planetary Variables, we are able to do just that: show the impact of our projects in tangible numbers such as ‘litres of water retained’, ‘degrees of cooling’ and changes in biomass. This adds another dimension to our impact monitoring.
Using the Planetary Variables datasets, Justdiggit and Planet were able to observe clear indications of the effects of restoration on land surface temperature and soil water content by comparing their Pembamoto West bunds site in Tanzania to the average of their “control” sites where no intervention has taken place. :
Based on two dike sites from Justdiggit, the total additional water retention as measured by soil water content data can be estimated at around 790,000 liters over less than 4 years. This satellite analysis captures data from the top 10 centimeters of soil, so the number is a conservative estimate as the increased retention is expected on a deeper soil layer (that’s to say on the total grass root depth). Assuming one person drinks 3 liters of water per day, the average additional daily retention would be enough to provide drinking water for 191 people.
With information highlighting these effects, Justdiggit is able to further expand its grassroots restoration work. By capturing tangible numbers, they can show key stakeholders like funders their progress. Similarly, when a local farming community is able to understand the impact of their work, they then become leaders and teachers for the next community, spreading educational roots in the region and developing new programs. “Thanks to the income generated from re-greening, I can now take my children to school,” said Mpachacha Isayta, a pastor living in Kuku, Kenya, who works with Justdiggit.
These datasets and our satellite images show the tangible progress these initiatives are having on the landscape of Kenya and Tanzania, and this is just the beginning. As Justdiggit aims to expand its program to millions of farmers, they and their partners are making significant progress in re-greening Africa, supporting sustainable livelihoods and tackling the climate crisis. By working together, we both aim to show that solutions exist, and you can even see them changing the world from space.
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