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CropWatch for South Africa

The agricultural sector is crucial to South Africa’s socio-economic stability. The sector is sensitive to key issues including climate change, population growth, changes in consumer needs and shifts in the global economy and related markets. Volatility in these key issues is increasing. The result is lowering investment incentives in agriculture and increasing uncertainty within the sector.

Project overview

Monitoring of crops is thus an important activity. Challenges in this context include the wide areas over which crops are produced and the variabilities that exist within the growing cycles for different crops. Successful monitoring thus requires reliable, wide area observations that are closely spaced during growing seasons to adequately observe different trends and potential anomalies. For such monitoring to be sustainable, cost effectiveness is mandatory.

Monitoring crops from space benefits from several key strengths of satellite-enabled observations including objectivity, wide area coverage and rapid temporal revisit. Recent developments in instrument capabilities offer further encouragement enabling wide area, frequent observations to be made with improving spatial and spectral resolutions.


The underlying challenges for CropWatch are both economic and societal. In South Africa the agricultural sector contributes only 3% to national GDP, which is far below the capacity of the sector. Nevertheless, its potential impact on empowerment and poverty relief is substantial since it is one of the most employment-intensive sectors – responsible for approximately 7% of formal employment. Consequently there is significant interest in improving monitoring capabilities in the agricultural sector to enhance GDP contribution and drive still larger impacts on empowerment and poverty relief.


CropWatch seeks to stimulate both economic and societal benefits in South Africa (and indeed across southern Africa). The main goal is to develop and demonstrate a set of crop stress assessment tools that use satellite data and agronomical information to optimise the monitoring of field crop areas in both irrigated and dry-land production systems in South Africa. Project activities thus include:

  • Acquisition of dense time series of optical images over two AOIs in South Africa (imagery includes DMC, SPOT and Landsat, but intention is to move to a Sentinel-2 input data stream).
  • Implementation of an operational production workflow to enable the routine generation of a range of biophysical parameters from the time series observations.
  • Development and implementation of an integrated crop stress model which combines the biophysical parameters with ancillary datasets to enable the monitoring of crop stress.
  • The project retains a user focus through routine engagement with the relevant stakeholder community.

Outcomes and next steps

To date CropWatch has been successful in developing and implementing the operational production workflow for the generation of the biophysical parameters. The integrated crop condition model is also able to generate the required crop condition products. The key next step is to address the dissemination component to enable effective distribution of the derived products within the stakeholder community.

Supplier: Airbus Defence and Space Ltd
Partner: South African National Space Agency

Source ADS