Our solutions and services take complex, multiple layers of data, convert them into insight and intelligence, enabling decision makers to build on their knowledge.
A Taxing Narrative:
Miscalculating Revenues and Misunderstanding the Conflict in Afghanistan
There is an assumption that The Taliban was, and is, primarily funded through taxing the illegal drugs trade.
We worked with David Mansfield on his latest research for AREU to show that their income actually comes from taxing a wide range of activities, with the illegal drugs trade playing a small role in their income generation.
Building on a method we have developed over many years, we set about trying to better understand these taxes. We merged in-depth fieldwork and high-resolution satellite imagery and focused our efforts on Nimroz, a province in the southwest of the country.
Nimroz is a major trading hub of fuel and transit goods and is a major producer and conduit of drugs going to Iran and Pakistan.
The provincial centre Ziranj is the central hub of people smuggling in Afghanistan.
These activities gave us the opportunity to better understand these trade flows
and their relative importance in funding the insurgency.
Read the report to find out how the assumptions and assertions are quite clearly wrong.
How the economic benefits of the conflict are distributed in Afghanistan and the implications for peace.
A case study on Nimroz province
Earlier this year, consultants for Lessons for Peace: Afghanistan studied the main sources of funds for different conflict actors in Nimroz. A strategic province in south-west Afghanistan that borders Iran and Pakistan, Nimroz became the first provincial capital to be taken by the insurgents. We worked with David Mansfield and Graeme Smith, providing the satellite imagery and geospatial analysis to support the findings.
The research reveals the potential importance of control over cross-border trade to the overall balance of power in the country. In doing so, it helps explain how the group have been able to mobilise support from erstwhile opponents through sophisticated pacts and agreements, and provides an indication of the likely role of these bargains, and the economic rents which underpin them, in keeping local powerholders included in the emerging settlement.
Click on the images below to read the report and annex, which has all the details.
Managing Local Resources and Conflict
The undeclared economy
This research set out to better understand how control over the production, movement and sale of goods through key locations—chokepoints—generates economic and political gains for powerbrokers and local elites, and employment opportunities in the trade and transport sector for local communities.
It focused on three cross-border value chains: fuel, transit goods and talc stone and sought to map and quantify the economic benefits derived by powerholders and communities along the length of these value chains in Afghanistan and on its borders. The research also assessed how armed conflict and policy shifts, such as the closure of the border or changes to export licenses, affect the different groups involved.
The research reveals a substantial undeclared economy, in which imports and exports reported by the Afghan authorities are less than half the amounts and values that cross the international borders, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenues to the Afghan state and a steady stream of funding for both the insurgent and state-affiliated actors in the provinces.
Our method combines high-resolution imagery and focused fieldwork to assess socio-economic, political, and environmental change. It involved more than 100 interviews with traders, transporters, and key informants involved in each of the three value chains.
Results of the fieldwork were combined with on-the-ground photography and high-resolution imagery on a GIS platform to map and model each cross-border value chain, including the amount of production and transport, costs, revenues and net returns.
Improving Lives and Livelihoods
Locating Nomadic Pastoralists Over Time and Space
For thousands of years the people of the Kuchi Tribe have travelled through Afghanistan, looking for water and pasture for their animals.
Despite there being up to 1.5 million of them, little is known about these nomadic travellers, resulting in them being one of the most marginalised groups of people in the country.
They have no access to education, healthcare or veterinary services, making them extremely vulnerable.
Our client, DAI, was running a project to improve their livelihoods by increasing the value of their cashmere and wool through improving the quality and yield of the wool and cashmere produced. The project also set out to provide essential services to these nomadic people who constantly slip through the net in accessing aid.
The problem was finding them!
We used a combination of methods to track them down and understand where they would be in October 2020.
Livelihoods and Governance
A New Dealer on the Block
In Afghanistan, farmers are turning to a mountain crop called Ephedra to replace the traditional over the counter medicines as a source of Ephedrine – a key ingredient in the production of Methamphetamine.
The European Drugs Agency have released their report on this plant-based Afghan meth production. The report, authored by David Mansfield is based on desk research, in depth fieldwork, and high-resolution satellite image analysis by the team at Alcis..
Searching for Shelters
In Afghanistan, there are almost 2.6 million IDPs. In 2018, a severe drought in the north of the country led to an additional 371,000. Many are living in informal tented communities. These tents are important indicators in determining the changing demand for humanitarian support.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) came to Alcis asking for help in locating the missing people, who had moved into temporary camps due to drought forcing them from their homes.
Initially we looked at the impact of the drought, identifying the communities where the loss of crops was most felt. More recently we have been looking at the resultant movement of people; analysing the location and distribution of shelters in makeshift camps.
Our project was presented at the 2021 Esri UK Annual Conference. Watch this short video where our COO Tim Buckley and Senior GIS Technician Madeleine Alston explain the challenge and how we helped the NRC, so they could distribute much needed aid to the right people in the right place.
Improving Lives and Livelihoods
Agricultural Credit Enhancement
For more than 25 years farmers in Afghanistan had no access to credit, severely restricting the development of their farms. This USAID funded project set out to change that by providing loans to individual farmers so they could develop their farms into commercial enterprises.
we designed a bespoke survey, collected and analysed the data and reported the results.
The analysis showed a number of interesting factors, such as the discrepancy between different provinces and the strength of the relationship between technology use and income. It also highlighted where major agricultural areas were under served by loan distributors and the lack of diversity in what loans were used for. Both of these factors could be addressed relatively simply in the extension period and overcome.
We created a storymap to explain our methodology and findings, which can be seen below or by clicking here
"The work we did on ACE-II was one of the coolest pieces of work that we have done to incorporate GIS into the program implementation".
Matt Smither, DAI
Climate change and the Environment
When the Water Runs Dry
What is to be done with the 1.5 million settlers in the deserts of southwest Afghanistan when their livelihoods fail?
Alcis used earth observation to provide insight and analysis to the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit’s report, by David Mansfield, to understand the impact, on both the land and the livelihoods of those living there, of using solar power to pump water from the deserts of southwest Afghanistan.
When asked about our work, The Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit said
"Alcis' high-resolution remote imagery helps to generate a deeper understanding of complex environments. This imagery presents an additional layer of evidence that is compelling and when combined with fieldwork and other research methods substantially contributes to a clearer understanding of the multidimensional nature of the illicit drugs industry."
Academic collaboration and research
Maize Mapping and Sustainable Water Use
A highly innovative, collaborative research project with the University of Surrey and funded by a grant from the UK's SPace Research and Innovation Network for Technology (SPRINT).
This project will develop a method for mapping maize crops in Afghanistan in past crop cycles, without the need for ground truth data, using satellite imagery and knowledge of the nature of maize growth and climate variables.
Using remotely sensed satellite data, the project will develop signatures for the maize crop based on its phenology and the local meteorological measurements. These signatures will be used to identify this crop at scale across the north of Afghanistan
We will then develop a new spatial product, derived from globally available Earth Observation data, that will inform on the climate change impacts on water resources in Afghanistan, the water consumed by changing agricultural practices and the sustainability of this consumption in the context of climate change.
Agriculture and improved livelihoods
Agricultural Value Chain Improvement
The AVCL project is to identify shortfalls in agricultural (specifically livestock) value chains, which can be resolved to promote economic and collaborative growth between farmers and businesses.
Using 20 different input layers we have generated a multi-criteria analysis tool.
Taking into account data layers such as access to roads, finance and agricultural quality, the dashboard is designed to improve and facilitate decision making and provide a better understanding of the environments we are working in.
To find out more, please get in touch.
Governance and Stability
Mules, Pick-ups and Container Traffic
With analysis of high resolution remote sensing imagery, Alcis supported the production of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit's report, written by David Mansfield.
The report investigates the large number of people, pack animals, and assortment of different types of vehicles crossing the numerous unofficial border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The research has established the networks for conducting pioneering research on illicit economies in Afghanistan, but also built the methodological foundations for similar work in other conflict affected places, where robust and verifiable data has so often proven inaccessible.