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Global geo initiatives in agriculture and food security

Since the launch of the Earth Resources Technology Satellite in 1972 (later renamed Landsat), which ushered in the modern era of global land observations and monitoring, remote sensing has been an integral part of agriculture and food security programs of governments and agencies around the world. Since then there has been a fast progress in application of remotely sensed data to the mapping and measurement of the Earth’s characteristics. The last 35 years have seen amazing improvements in sensor technologies, incredible advances in computing, and impressive innovations in analytical procedures.

Rapid technological advancements in earth observation capabilities, coupled with advances in IT, cloud computing, GNSS, mobile technologies and the smartphone revolution have created a unique opportunity for implementing smarter solutions for the agriculture sector globally.

Of late multilateral agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) have taken up a more focussed approach towards use of spatial technologies and information for ensuring food security. Geoinformation also plays a crucial role in crop insurance schemes.

The UN organisations are promoting GGIM (Global Geospatial Information Management). The thought is that land ownership or tenure etc requires a good land administration, which is the basis for more responsible and sustainable farming practices and certainly also for access to loans and investments. The UK Ordnance Survey and the Dutch Cadastre are promoting that a lot.

The Group on Earth Observations (a partnership of governments and international organizations) developed the Global Agricultural Monitoring (GEOGLAM) initiative in response to the growing calls for improved agricultural information. The goal of GEOGLAM is to strengthen the international community’s capacity to produce and disseminate relevant, timely and accurate forecasts of agricultural production at national, regional and global scales through the use of Earth Observations (EO), which include satellite and ground-based observations. GEO’s GEONETCast programme uses free satellite imagery obtained through low-cost receiving stations is used for detection of agricultural pests. The World Food Programme (WFP) of the United Nations uses geospatial data and technologies for assessing crop vulnerability.

The Web site of NASA’s SEDAC offers a variety of interdisciplinary data and related resources grouped under socioeconomic and Earth science themes. The Agriculture and Food Security theme spans global data holdings and resources that touch on the proportion of cropland and pasture, the extent of poverty, biodiversity, environmental indicators, and human consumption measures.

Another interesting programme is GODAN – Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition. Global GODAN works to support global efforts to make agricultural and nutritionally relevant data available, accessible, and usable to deal with the urgent challenge of ensuring world food security.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network is a leading provider of early warning and analysis on acute food insecurity. It was created in 1985 by the US Agency for International Development. FEWS NET is a longtime user of Esri technology and creates maps showing areas vulnerable to food insecurity.

The World Resources Institute has a free mapping tool called Global Forest Watch Commodities that provides forest-related data and analysis of various commercial agricultural products. It was created for the WRI by Blue Raster LLC in partnership with Esri and is being used to support analysis related to agriculture and deforestation.

There are a lot of initiatives to do some kind of ‘wall-to-wall’ mapping of agricultural productivity using MODIS and other satellite data. But also in measuring rainfall – like to ‘old’ ARTEMIS programme of FAO. Europe is famous for its MARS project, which monitors agriculture with remote sensing (check box) . And USDA has a website called VegScape with weekly vegetation index imagery from MODIS. MARS, or the Monitoring Agricultural ResourceS Unit Mission Focusing on crop production, agricultural activities and rural development, provides timely forecasts, early assessments and the scientific underpinning for efficient monitoring and control systems. The work serves the Agriculture and Food policies of the European Union, their impact on rural economies and on the environment, encompassing the global issues of food security and climate change.

The Dutch government has started a programme called Geospatial for Agriculture and Water (G4AW). This has the ambition to use geospatial data to reach out to smallholder farms to improve their productivity. It has projects in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Mali, Kenya and more.

In Africa these initiatives are also moving fast. The Gates foundation is supporting a big research project STARS — Spurring a Transformation for Agriculture through Remote Sensing – which is looking for ways to use remote sensing technology to improve agricultural practices in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The project hopes to significantly advance the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in some of the world’s poorest countries. Through its Seeing a Better World Program, DigitalGlobe is partnering with scientists of to provide better information in order to increase productivity and decrease vulnerability for millions of family farmers who often have plots of land no bigger than a football field, and may face insecure tenure on that land.

Geospatial information has always been there (soil maps, vegetation maps etc), but in recent years the ability to take that georeferenced information in to orchards or fields have given us the ability to make real time decisions that has drastically increased the sustainability and profitability of the fruit industry globally.

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