According to a recent article published in Nature Food, integrating remote sensing and data sharing can provide valuable agricultural information crucial for food security and sustainability planning. The article highlights the importance of accurate estimates and forecasts of cultivated area and yield in guiding policy decisions, especially considering the increasing impacts of climate change.
Real-time crop monitoring has become increasingly important, particularly in addressing climate-induced losses and damages. Initiatives such as GEOGLAM and the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) have traditionally contributed to monitoring global food security based on existing data on crop location and agricultural productivity. However, these systems typically provide static information based on past data with coarse resolution.
To overcome these limitations and advance crop monitoring on a global scale in real time, the WorldCereal project has created a highly scalable open-source system. This system utilizes data from the Sentinel-1 and 2 satellites provided by the EU Copernicus program, which offer high spatial and temporal resolution. In 2021, the system demonstrated its ability to provide seasonal cropland information, crop-specific maps, and irrigation maps.
The authors of the article emphasize that incorporating more crop-specific data into the system would increase the accuracy of national and subnational agricultural statistics. This improvement in data quality would significantly enhance the ability to monitor national situations and contribute to established international protocols such as FAO questionnaires on production and land use statistics, UNFCCC initiatives, and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
One key innovation of the WorldCereal project is its harmonized, open community-based global reference database containing millions of samples contributed by various organizations worldwide. To fully realize its potential, steps must be taken to transform it into a sustainable cloud-based platform with diverse operating models.
Linda See, lead author of the study from IIASA’s Novel Data Ecosystems for Sustainability Research Group explains that ESA’s WorldCereal project leverages high-resolution satellite imagery to generate near real-time information on crop types and irrigation. She suggests that the system can be used on-demand to meet the needs of diverse user communities, encouraging countries to not only provide in situ data but also improve cropland maps by incorporating local knowledge and data.
While the WorldCereal system requires a significant investment, the benefits of having high-resolution, data-rich agricultural information supported by a global community outweigh the costs. By collaborating with international organizations like FAO, national agencies can leverage this technology to improve their agricultural statistics and reporting capabilities in support of global initiatives such as UNFCCC and SDGs.
The authors acknowledge that there are still gaps in data from diverse regions and sources that need to be filled. However, they believe that contributions from public and private organizations, as well as emerging data types like street imagery and citizen science, offer great opportunities for improvement.
The conviction, integrating remote sensing and data sharing through projects like WorldCereal can enhance global food security by providing critical estimates of agricultural production and yield. This approach enables real-time monitoring of crops on a global scale, offering valuable insights for policy decisions related to food security and sustainability planning.
According to insiders cited in this article, utilizing satellite data is a powerful tool in improving global food security. The WorldCereal project exemplifies how remote sensing technologies combined with machine learning algorithms and shared reference data can provide accurate agricultural information necessary for sustainable development.
See L, Gilliams S, Conchedda G et al. Dynamic monitoring of crops and irrigation on a global scale. Nature Food. 2023;4(9):736-737. doi: 10.1038/s43016-023-00841-7
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