satellite imagery; agriculture

Food crisis and Precision Agriculture revolution

The term precision agriculture has been around since the first use of spatial data for decision making in farm management. It brought to us the use of GIS mapping, GPS routes for crop vehicles, and derivative Software and data products. All of them target increasing efficiency of farm management, but also in the latest years: optimized energy and fertilizers use, monitoring environment degradation and soil management.  
The innovation behind precision agriculture is that  timely decision data helps yield better crops as well as saves resources:  produce more food with less power used.
 And it is a timely concern. We soon hit 10 billion in global population, and food vulnerability is a staggering concern for many nations. Industrial agriculture is often heavily controlled by governments, and surplus/deficits are managed with export/import trade flows, as well as humanitarian food support.
The world is at the brink of the Food Crisis. FAO highlights the most vulnerable countries, and it is the time to bring precision agriculture to those places.  In the crisis context, use of spatial data,  and satellite imagery analytics bring timely insights to:
1. Production supply monitoring
2. Inefficiency in planning and transportation leading to food waste
3. Farm management and consequences in environmental degradation


From Precision Agriculture to Sustainable Agriculture and support of Small holder farmer

Satellite imagery has shown its use in many industrial and developed economies. However, agriculture is the sector that is data poor. And it is in developing countries where there is a significant challenge of cultivated lands remain unregistered and unmapped. 
                                     How using satellite imagery analytics is critical for sustainable agriculture in developing countries?
  • Mapping land use. For example, in India, there is a significant % of individual farms but the cadastral maps are outdated. The problem is very prevalent to developing countries. Depending on the government set up and past reforms, in some countries, individuals were granted access to a parcel of land. In some countries the individual farming became significant in its land distribution vs industrial agriculture. In case of smaller individual farm parcels, cultivated land is hard to track or identify.  In case of industrial farming in Latin America, for instance, cultivated vegetation is larger in size of plots.
  • Monitoring livelihoods destruction or environmental damages. New mining and expansion of construction may result in reduction or displaced agricultural lands. In developing countries with highly reported levels of administrative corruption,  the licences are obtained with lesser consideration on displaced lands and livelihoods of communities. Scandals of rapid constructions of mining sites have been known in Nigeria and Guinea.
palm oil taqadam

Who will step in with satellite imagery innovation for Sustainable Agriculture?

  1. National and sub-national governments. This way they are better informed of their resources and capacity.
  2. Farmers and growers. So they can benchmark and understand where they stand against the crop health of others. Therefore, monitor, optimize and plan better: from seed to harvest. 
  3. Foundations and international organizations.  FAO, AGRA, Bill and Melinda Gates foundations, and EU donor governments focus their effort to reduce food vulnerability and boost Sustainable Agriculture. 
  4. Agribusiness (financiers, insurance companies, equipment, seed and fertilize production). The sector needs more data to better understand how to target their products to farmers. 

4 ways geospatial analytics is used for Smart Agriculture

Solutions with the use of satellite imagery are impartial and alternative.  It gives verified ground truth data at scale.  

Smart crop yeild prediction

Smart weed management

Crop yield prediction is one of the challenging task in agricultural domain. NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index) values
are reported to have good correlation with several vegetation parameters including the ability to predict yield. While some staple crops have good yield prediction models, non standard crops such as Cassava require further work. 
Having ‘eyes in the sky’ checking crops regularly is a useful tool for growers and agronomists monitoring crops and controlling weeds. Satellite images provide a very objective means of identifying weedy areas and informing the farmer.
Imagery allows to track anomalies in biomass production and point into the areas which require more attention. In the case of weeds, it is easy to calculate the size of weedy patches and to monitor the impact of herbicide or cultural practices.

Smart expansion of arable lands to cultivated

Smart water resource use

Forests ecosystems have been in danger for decades as a result of mass construction, industrialization and land cultivation.  Demand for agricultural products of food, feed, and fuel is a major factor in the expansion of arable land and pasture in many developing countries.
In the tropics, between 1980 and 2000, more than 55 percent of new agricultural land was obtained from intact forests and another 28 percent from disturbed forests. Last year the largest forest loss was  in Amazon fire, which reminded the global community the importance of smart land management. With satellite imagery analytics, the planning of land cultivation and reforestation can be planned strategically, without having derogatory effect on either. 
Consumer water use is the amount of water that is not returned to surface or underground sources, that is, fully used for production. Assessment of water use is one of the main needs for water resources management and water rights. Water use is included in the major frameworks of Sustainable Development and Environmental practices. Using thermal satellite images to measure evapotranspiration, the combination of evaporation and transpiration is an effective and objective way to monitor water consumption over a wide geographical area.
Monitoring evapotranspiration can also provide early signs of water stress, such as drought, which can significantly damage crop yields and potentially destroy the entire crop production season.