Chetan Pradhan, Head of Institutional Engagement at Earth-I, explains how Earth Observation satellites are becoming a powerful enabler for farmers and the global supply chains they serve, in this World Space Week 2020 article looking at how satellites improve life.
Few can now doubt that climate change is the greatest threat we face, and it demands swift action. Amongst the most vulnerable, are the world’s 500 million smallholder farmers. They produce an estimated 30-40% of global food supply, and the vast majority are located in developing or least-developed nations. The sustainability of their communities and crops is at risk from land degradation, increasingly scarce water resources and unpredictable weather patterns.
The ACCORD programme, led by Earth-i and funded through the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme (IPP), helps smallholder coffee farmers in East Africa combat climate change. It demonstrates the wider potential of Earth Observation satellites for the world’s smallholder farmers.
25 million of these farmers produce the majority of the world’s coffee and ACCORD’s goal is to make their crop and livelihoods sustainable. At the heart of the programme is the mapping and monitoring of the many thousands of small fields that produce our daily cup of coffee. Satellites monitor the health of the crop in each mapped field, giving powerful insight into crop performance over the growing cycle. An advice service alerts farmers to local weather changes and the most effective and timely crop management response.
EO satellites are becoming a powerful enabler for farmers and the global supply chains they serve. Earth-i is demonstrating how this space-based technology can provide three crucial capabilities in securing world food supply in the face of climate change.
Firstly, the application of computer vision to satellite imagery can detect crops and map smallholder fields over wide areas remotely, providing an accurate picture of where and how the crops are grown that surpasses traditional census methods.
Secondly, frequent revisits monitor crop performance using vegetation health analysis, providing actionable insights on the impact of unpredictable weather and opportunities to improve yields over the course of the growing cycle.
Thirdly, by fusing satellite data with other data sets and applying advanced Artificial Intelligence techniques, Earth-i is showing that accurate yield predictions will be possible, enabling businesses and governments to implement meaningful sustainability initiatives in a timely fashion.
The space industry is playing a leading role in building global food security and the long-term resilience of smallholder farmer communities. They will, in turn, be better able to withstand the next unexpected crisis, be that another pandemic or a devastating weather event.
In fact, your morning cup of coffee may just depend on it!