Feedback from the GEONETCab workshop

June 25th, 2012, Published in Articles: PositionIT

The SADC region workshop for the GEONETCab project (FP7 project) was held on 8 June 2012 at SANSA Space Operations, Hartebeeshoek, in South Africa. The workshop attracted 48 participants who could be categorised based on the GEONETCab UML model, as follows: earth observation (E0) client (20), EO provider (7), EO client and provider (16), and EO provider and decision maker (5). The participants represented SADC member states such as South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland and Botswana.

Various government departments, research councils, tertiary institutions and private sector were represented. The client category included both existing and potential earth observation (EO) users. Attracting decision makers to workshops like these was found to be a challenge. The project recommends attending specific events that are already tailored to decision makers in order to reach them rather than organising an EO-specific event tailored for decision makers. Similarly to reach new and potential users, societal benefit areas specific events are to be targeted as platforms for marketing EO use and building capacity.

The presentations covered various topics and highlighted certain aspects of interest in capacity building in the use of EO. Summaries of the main discussions are provided below:

  • The CEO of SANSA, Dr. Sandile Malinga, called for the optimal use of space to solve societal challenges through capacity building. The South African National Space Programme (NSP) is designing the 2030 space vision for the country and has been allocated a budget of R100-million for 3 years by the Minister of Science and Technology (DST) for the satellite development programme.
  •  The Group on Earth Observation (GEO) was established on
    31 July 2003 as an outcome of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg in 2002. It has since become clear that no country can undertake global space activities on its own. GEO is about how to structure coordinated space initiatives. There is a need to understand the earth system to make sure our economic and ecological systems plans are sustainable. As GEO considers the earth system in terms of societal benefit areas, it is important to consider the connections between the societal benefit areas and the spin offs of space activities from one societal benefit area to the other. The notion of one dataset many applications!
  •  The GEONETCab project provides the EO community with tools to market EO to decision makers, communities of practice and the general community. These include success stories and descriptions of successful applications of EO in a language that potential clients understand, and cover attributes such as sustainability, repeatability etc. The project also provides marketing toolkits e.g. focusing on international trends and developments in societal benefit areas. The project runs a capacity building web portal ( which gives guidance on free and low-cost software and provides tutorials and references to training courses.
  • The SPOT-5 multi-user government licence model was started by a group of lead-user government departments coordinated by SANSA (then CSIR Satellite Applications Centre).
  •  The AfriGEOSS initiative by the GEO Secretariat has a focus theme of “Sustainability – looking at how Africa can further build on the opportunities provided by GEO through coordinated efforts”. Africa has 22 GEO member countries and five participating organisations. In the SADC region, four out of 15 member countries (South Africa, Madagascar, Mauritius and DRC) are members. A call to the SADC countries to join GEO in order to build on the coordination and facilitation of activities was made. Various projects using EO are being undertaken in Africa and Africans need to view this as seed funding which could be used to build sustainable programmes for the continent. GEO has political visibility e.g. G8 2008 declared that they will accelerate the development of GEOSS, and Africa needs to do the same. At which point can the AU or ECA develop similar programmes like the European Framework Programme? The question was asked, “With the size of Africa, where are we in contributing to the global body of knowledge?”
  • The service provider and client perspectives derived from the development and use of the Active Fire Detection System (AFIS) were described as follows:
    • Understand the user needs first. The value of this statement is underestimated and often taken for granted. Providers tend to believe they know best what is good for the client. This notion applies from infrastructure provision to funding mechanisms. User needs always seem to be tailored to systems that are available, instead of systems being developed to meet user needs.

    • Build on existing capacity – roll out to other countries and AFIS can now be used for a completely different SBA or application area.

    •  From the user perspective, AFIS has been noted to have a 70 to 81% success rate of fires detected prior to flashovers. There is a need for a higher temporal resolution solution and cloud penetrating systems especially to cover areas such as the Western Cape Province in South Africa.
    •  The implementation of the system included the ground training of people to fight fires – full value chain.
  • To nurture resources, the importance of international partnerships was stressed. Various programmes facilitated by the DST, such as the Framework Programme (next call termed Horizon 2030) and the network programme, which stakeholders can apply for were presented. In most of these programmes, the DST provides support funds for South African participants. The funding could be co-investment in an FP project or seed funding for attending proposal preparation meetings in Europe.
  •  AMESD SADC Thematic Action approached the capacity building through the introductory distance education course in remote sensing, GIS and GEONETCAST offered by ITC, Netherlands targeted at users without a background in EO. Completion of this course (and/or experience in remote sensing and GIS) pre-qualifies national focal points (NFP) of the participating SADC countries to attend the SADC regional training workshop where the “train the trainer” model is adopted for the three AMESD SADC services (agriculture, drought and fire). The trained NFPs are responsible for organising national training workshops in their countries to train users on how to use AMESD services to enable informed decision making. SADC universities play a key role in training at regional workshops. Training material packaged in DVDs with voice narratives is under development. Lessons learned in AMESD capacity building will be incorporated into the successor MESA project.
  • SAEOS, South Africa’s contribution to GEO, will harvest EO data from different custodians and is built to allow for the data to be kept by the owner to ensure it is maintained and updated. SAEOS keeps the metadata as much as possible. The content can be searched by SBA. The components of the system can be re-used in any system, for example, a link to the AMESD drought monitoring system can easily be done and components such as the search capability can be used by any website.
  • The newly established National Earth Observation and Space Secretariat (NEOSS) is the home of SA-GEO aimed at coordinating South African participation in GEO and contribution to the GEO work plan through the creation of communities of practice in each societal benefit area.

Discussions and upcoming events

Some key discussion points to be followed up on were identified at the meeting:

  • Increased participation of SADC member countries in GEO
  • Ownership of AfriGEOSS by Africans
  • GEONETCab follow up project for the SADC region
  • Training of users in using portals

The following upcoming events were announced at the workshop:

  • NEOSS road shows for the launch of SA-GEO and Communities of Practice and the Scientific symposium, to be held from 11-13 September 2012, with a call for papers coming out soon
  • AfriGEOSS will hold a special session at the AARSE conference in El Jadida, Morocco
  • AfriGEOSS has planned African regional workshops
  • SANSA has planned stakeholder engagement on how SANSA Earth Observation can support user community
  • Orientation papers for Framework Programme for 2014 are out. For further information National Contact Points (NCP), visit the ESASTAP website (

Contact Andiswa Mlisa, Umvoto, Tel 021 788-8031,