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Future Food Security for Global Consumers Is Taking an Informed Turn

(Jan 12 2016) Considering the worldwide food scarcity that occurred between 2007 and 2008, governments around the world are taking positive steps to ensure this event does not occur again. The incident led to increase in prices of dietary staple foods and caused frightened governments to stop food exportation, leading to widespread riots in some cases.

A NASA blog post reports that this situation led to the establishment of the Group on Earth Observation’s Global Agricultural Monitoring (GEOGLAM) which is an international group of government representatives and farming monitoring groups. They rely on Earth-imaging satellites to provide them with data which will enable them to accurately predict weather events affecting crop yields.

Rice is among the major food crop to monitor because billions of people around the world rely on it as a major staple, yet predicting its growth and yield is very difficult. The rice market is very volatile and investors, farmers, as well as consumers are at risk because a drought or flood in Southeast Asia could render about a billion people hungry.

But with the intervention of GEOGLAM, it is anticipated that this will change.

Landsat series have been in orbit since 1972 and are the most used Earth-imaging equipment for weather monitoring on Earth. In 2013 the newest Landsat 8 launched, and it maps the surface of Earth every 16 days to provide agricultural data emanating from weather and other atmospheric conditions.

This helps experts in making predictions about crop output and to detect crop stress among other agricultural issues.

Then there is the Terra and Aqua satellites used to map the Earth via its Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) instrument. These provide data every two days about crop development, plants’ responses to weather and other agricultural activities such as irrigation.

The only issue with the satellite data is that it must be accurately interpreted to give sense – which is not something everyone can do, and where Applied Geosolutions come in, with Nathan Torbick as its director.

Applied Geosolutions for the past 10 years has been working to better interpret data from Earth-imaging satellites, and this led to the Stennis Space Center to offer the company two contracts on its Small Business Innovation Research program – which facilitated the design and development of the Rice Decision Support System (RDSS).

The RDSS is a software that analyzes NASA satellites’ data with those of other organizations to better picture the influence of weather on rice fields, production, and yield modeling with a view to getting a complete picture of what’s going on on the ground, Torbick clarified.

Applied Geosolutions now favors the GEOGLAM program, and provides rice farmers and traders and investors with detailed information that helps them with key decisions about rice as a staple food.

“When we’re blind to what production will be, the market becomes speculative, and volatility prevails. This is not good for business, government, or consumers,” says Bradley Doorn, program manager for the Water Resources Applied Sciences program in NASA Headquarters’ Earth Sciences Division.

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