African Association of
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All the latest news on AARSE and remote sensing.
  • 22 Feb 2016 11:21 AM | AARSE Admin (Administrator)


    Source: Marine Electronics & Communications


    SpeedCast International has expanded satellite communications services in and around Africa by agreeing to use Ku-band capacity on a Gazprom Space Systems (GSS) satellite. SpeedCast will use Ku-band beams on the Yamal-402 satellite to deliver broadband into the African region. It will also use an uplink, based in Germany, to deliver broadband communications into Europe.


    GSS’ constellation consists of four satellites - Yamal-202, Yamal-300K, Yamal-401 and Yamal-402 and operates ground telecommunications infrastructure. Other service providers have taken capacity on the Yamal fleet to deliver broadband to shipping. Recently, NSSLGlobal took capacity on Yamal-402 to deliver communications offshore East Africa. In September 2015, Radio Holland secured capacity on the northern beam of the Yamal 402 satellite to deliver broadband services for ships operating in the Barents Sea and Kara Sea.


    Original article


  • 04 Feb 2016 1:07 PM | AARSE Admin (Administrator)

    Source: Shephard News Team


    The SpaceDataHighway programme has reached a significant milestone with the first EDRS-A relay satellite launched into geostationary orbit on 30 January. The satellite will now undergo a test period before becoming operational for the first customer by mid-2016.

    The SpaceDataHighway system will provide high-speed laser communication in space at up to 1.8 gigabits per second. The €500 million programme is the result of a public-private partnership between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Airbus Defence and Space. 

    The SpaceDataHighway will use communication relay satellites such as EDRS-A to transfer high-volume information from Earth observation satellites, UAVs and surveillance aircraft, or even from a space station such as the ISS. With lasers able to transmit data at up to 1.8 Gbit/s, up to 50 terabytes per day can be transmitted securely in near-real-time to Earth, as opposed to the delay of several hours currently experienced.

    The laser technology is being developed by Tesat Spacecom as a highly precise pointing capability that enables two laser terminals located 75,000km apart to be connected. Airbus Defence and Space will validate the broadband (1.8 Gbps) laser link concept between EDRS-A and an Airbus A310 MRTT in mid-2016.  

    EDRS-A is a hosted payload carried on Eutelsat 9B, a Eurostar E3000-type satellite built by Airbus Defence and Space. It will be positioned at 9° East and will be able to establish laser links with orbiting observation satellites and UAVs positioned over Europe, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and the eastern coast of North America. 

    A second satellite will be launched in 2017, which will extend the coverage, capacity and redundancy of the system. A third is expected by 2020 to extend coverage over the Asia-Pacific.


    Original article

  • 04 Feb 2016 12:42 PM | AARSE Admin (Administrator)

    Source: Phys.org; Article: University of Twente

    Unique high-resolution map on bat diversity in Africa

    Map on species richness of African bats


    Researchers of the ITC Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation of the University of Twente have developed a unique map of all 250 African bat species on a high-resolution scale (1 km2). There are very few examples of biodiversity richness based on quantitative data at a continental scale, especially for challenging guilds like bats. The findings of the research are presented in the January edition of the scientific journal Ecological Modelling.

    The researchers have created state-of-the-art species distribution models (SDMs) for a large taxonomic group and demonstrated that by stacking these, a plausible model of fine-grained continental species diversity and endemism patterns can be obtained despite often scarce and biased occurrence data (the so-called 'Wallacean shortfall'). Very few such studies have hitherto been published that cover a large and complete taxonomic group with fine resolution at continental extent.


    Bats in Africa

    Bats are the second-most species-rich mammal group numbering more than 1270 species globally. Knowledge of their geographic distributions and diversity patterns however is very limited – possibly the poorest among mammals – mainly due to their nocturnal and volant life history, and challenging fieldwork conditions in the tropics where most bat species occur.

    The research findings suggests that African bat species richness generally increases towards the equator, varies substantially within the equatorial zone of elevated richness, often showing a positive association with high topo diversity at relatively low elevations, and accommodates surprisingly steep gradients over a few kilometers, especially near rivers in savanna biomes.

    Centers of endemism (hotspots of summed range size rarity) are mostly found in or near areas characterized by substantial elevational ranges – on tropical mountains often at higher elevations than hotspots of species richness. Spatial congruence between richness and rarity hotspots is relatively low although this depends on the definition of both rare species and hotspot size.


    Further deployment of the approach

    The approach in general, and the presented model in particular, should prove valuable for a range of applications because the maps of African bat diversity and endemism presented constitute one of the few published datasets featuring high spatial resolution, large geographic extent, and broad taxonomic scope.

    Owing to these properties, and in combination with the underlying individual SDMs, the model may help optimize protected area networks, support survey planning, and feed into biodiversity monitoring schemes. The generated data also lend themselves to a range of macro ecological analyses, including tests of hypotheses across spatial grains finer than the common limit of 1° as well as studies distinguishing taxonomic subsets and functional groups.


    Original article

    Researchers of the ITC Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation of the University of Twente have developed a unique map of all 250 African bat species on a high-resolution scale (1 km2). There are very few examples of biodiversity richness based on quantitative data at a continental scale, especially for challenging guilds like bats. The findings of the research are presented in the January edition of the scientific journal Ecological Modelling.

    The researchers have created state-of-the-art species distribution models (SDMs) for a large taxonomic group and demonstrated that by stacking these, a plausible model of fine-grained continental species diversity and endemism patterns can be obtained despite often scarce and biased occurrence data (the so-called 'Wallacean shortfall'). Very few such studies have hitherto been published that cover a large and complete taxonomic group with fine resolution at continental extent.

    Bats in Africa

    Bats are the second-most species-rich mammal group numbering more than 1270 species globally. Knowledge of their geographic distributions and diversity patterns however is very limited – possibly the poorest among mammals – mainly due to their nocturnal and volant life history, and challenging fieldwork conditions in the tropics where most bat species occur.

    The research findings suggests that African bat species richness generally increases towards the equator, varies substantially within the equatorial zone of elevated richness, often showing a positive association with high topo diversity at relatively low elevations, and accommodates surprisingly steep gradients over a few kilometers, especially near rivers in savanna biomes.

    Centers of endemism (hotspots of summed range size rarity) are mostly found in or near areas characterized by substantial elevational ranges – on tropical mountains often at higher elevations than hotspots of species richness. Spatial congruence between richness and rarity hotspots is relatively low although this depends on the definition of both rare species and hotspot size.

    Further deployment of the approach

    The approach in general, and the presented model in particular, should prove valuable for a range of applications because the maps of African bat diversity and endemism presented constitute one of the few published datasets featuring high spatial resolution, large geographic extent, and broad taxonomic scope.

    Owing to these properties, and in combination with the underlying individual SDMs, the model may help optimize protected area networks, support survey planning, and feed into biodiversity monitoring schemes. The generated data also lend themselves to a range of macro ecological analyses, including tests of hypotheses across spatial grains finer than the common limit of 1° as well as studies distinguishing taxonomic subsets and functional groups.



    Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-01-unique-high-resolution-diversity-africa.html#jCp
  • 04 Feb 2016 12:23 PM | AARSE Admin (Administrator)

    Source: Africa Union


    The African Union Heads of State and Government during their Twenty-Sixth Ordinary Session on 31 January 2016 in Addis Ababa adopted the African Space Policy and Strategy as the first of the concrete steps to realize an African Outer Space Programme, as one of the flagship programmes of the AU Agenda 2063. They immediately urged the Member States, RECs, Partners and the Commission to raise awareness on the central role of space science and technology in Africa’s socio-economic development and mobilize domestic resources for the implementation of this policy and strategy. Adoption of the Space Policy and Strategy has set pace for collective revitalization of African space activities in contribution to the achievements of the overarching Agenda 2063.

    The African Union being aware of the unique opportunities for the continent to collectively address socio-economic development issues through Space technologies, went further to request the development of an implementation architecture for the African Space Policy and Strategy, taking into account requirements of different sectors and end-user groups; as well as a Governance Framework that covers the relevant legal requirements and protocols for an operational African Outer-Space Programme.

    The Commission, through an AU Member States-based Working Group guided by sectoral Ministerial Conferences drafted the space policy and strategy that outlines the ambitious high-level goals to mobilise the continent to develop the necessary institutions and capacities to harness space technologies for socio-economic benefits that improve the quality of lives and create wealth for Africans.

    The adoption of the policy although significant has no meaning in itself unless rapid steps are taken to implement it. The Heads of State and Government in their decision have also extended the time frame for the African Union Space Working Group to continue with the exercise of drafting Governance and Implementation Frameworks. One of the next major steps to prepare such frameworks includes carrying out a comprehensive space technology audit to take stock of the African space heritage. This comprehensive audit will effectively inform the process of implementing the Policy and Strategy.

    AUSWG Members in their 7th Session held back to back with the African Leadership Conference on Space Science and Technology for Sustainable Development (ALC), in Sharm El Sheikh Egypt, December 2015

    Dr Martial de Paul Ikounga, Commissioner for Human resources Science and Technology took the opportunity to congratulate the Space Working Group chaired by South Africa and comprised of members from Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, Congo and Cameroon, and Namibia for job well done.

    For further information please feel free to contact Dr Mahama Ouedraogo, Head of division science and technology, African Union commission: OuedraogoM@africa-union.org


    Original article

    Addis Ababa 31 January 2016- The African Union Heads of State and Government during their Twenty-Sixth Ordinary Session on 31 January 2016 in Addis Ababa adopted the African Space Policy and Strategy as the first of the concrete steps to realize an African Outer space Programme, as one of the flagship programmes of the AU Agenda 2063. They immediately urged the Member States, RECs, Partners and the Commission to raise awareness on the central role of space science and technology in Africa’s socio-economic development and mobilize domestic resources for the implementation of this policy and strategy. Adoption of the Space Policy and Strategy has set pace for collective revitalization of African space activities in contribution to the achievements of the overarching Agenda 2063.

    The African Union being aware of the unique opportunities for the continent to collectively address socio-economic development issues through Space technologies, went further to request the development of an implementation architecture for the African Space Policy and Strategy, taking into account requirements of different sectors and end-user groups; as well as a Governance Framework that covers the relevant legal requirements and protocols for an operational African Outer-Space Programme.

    .

    The Commission, through an AU Member States-based Working Group guided by sectorial Ministerial Conferences drafted the space policy and strategy that outlines the ambitious high-level goals to mobilise the continent to develop the necessary institutions and capacities to harness space technologies for socio-economic benefits that improve the quality of lives and create wealth for Africans.

    Satellites looking over the earth

    Description: Description: https://fbcdn-sphotos-e-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xlf1/t31.0-8/12309842_..., the adoption of the policy although significant has no meaning in itself unless rapid steps are taken to implement it. The Heads of State and Government in their decision have also extended the timeframe for the African Union Space Working Group to continue with the exercise of drafting Governance and Implementation Frameworks. One of the next major steps to prepare such frameworks includes carrying out a comprehensive space technology audit to take stock of the African space heritage. This comprehensive audit will effectively inform the process of implementing the Policy and Strategy.

    AUSWG Members in their 7th Session held back to back with the African Leadership Conference on Space Science and Technology for Sustainable Development (ALC), in Sharm El Sheikh Egypt, December 2015

    Dr Martial de Paul Ikounga, Commissioner for Human resources Science and Technology took the opportunity to congratulate the Space Working Group chaired by South Africa and comprised of members from Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, Congo and Cameroon, and Namibia for job well done.

    For further information please feel free to contact Dr Mahama Ouedraogo, Head of division science and technology, African Union commission: OuedraogoM@africa-union.org

    - See more at: http://www.au.int/en/pressreleases/19677/african-union-heads-state-and-government-adopts-african-space-policy-and#sthash.nvADyFt9.dpuf

    Addis Ababa 31 January 2016- The African Union Heads of State and Government during their Twenty-Sixth Ordinary Session on 31 January 2016 in Addis Ababa adopted the African Space Policy and Strategy as the first of the concrete steps to realize an African Outer space Programme, as one of the flagship programmes of the AU Agenda 2063. They immediately urged the Member States, RECs, Partners and the Commission to raise awareness on the central role of space science and technology in Africa’s socio-economic development and mobilize domestic resources for the implementation of this policy and strategy. Adoption of the Space Policy and Strategy has set pace for collective revitalization of African space activities in contribution to the achievements of the overarching Agenda 2063.

    The African Union being aware of the unique opportunities for the continent to collectively address socio-economic development issues through Space technologies, went further to request the development of an implementation architecture for the African Space Policy and Strategy, taking into account requirements of different sectors and end-user groups; as well as a Governance Framework that covers the relevant legal requirements and protocols for an operational African Outer-Space Programme.

    .

    The Commission, through an AU Member States-based Working Group guided by sectorial Ministerial Conferences drafted the space policy and strategy that outlines the ambitious high-level goals to mobilise the continent to develop the necessary institutions and capacities to harness space technologies for socio-economic benefits that improve the quality of lives and create wealth for Africans.

    Satellites looking over the earth

    Description: Description: https://fbcdn-sphotos-e-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xlf1/t31.0-8/12309842_..., the adoption of the policy although significant has no meaning in itself unless rapid steps are taken to implement it. The Heads of State and Government in their decision have also extended the timeframe for the African Union Space Working Group to continue with the exercise of drafting Governance and Implementation Frameworks. One of the next major steps to prepare such frameworks includes carrying out a comprehensive space technology audit to take stock of the African space heritage. This comprehensive audit will effectively inform the process of implementing the Policy and Strategy.

    AUSWG Members in their 7th Session held back to back with the African Leadership Conference on Space Science and Technology for Sustainable Development (ALC), in Sharm El Sheikh Egypt, December 2015

    Dr Martial de Paul Ikounga, Commissioner for Human resources Science and Technology took the opportunity to congratulate the Space Working Group chaired by South Africa and comprised of members from Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, Congo and Cameroon, and Namibia for job well done.

    For further information please feel free to contact Dr Mahama Ouedraogo, Head of division science and technology, African Union commission: OuedraogoM@africa-union.org

    - See more at: http://www.au.int/en/pressreleases/19677/african-union-heads-state-and-government-adopts-african-space-policy-and#sthash.nvADyFt9.dpuf
  • 02 Feb 2016 3:49 PM | AARSE Admin (Administrator)

    Source: ClubX


    Lufuno Vhengani (37) fills us in on what his demanding job is all about.


    What does a typical day in your job entail?
    I spend most of my day developing and enhancing Earth Observation (EO) applications. A lot of my work revolves around computer programming for automated analysis of EO data. My work also involves writing reports, communicating with clients and sometimes fieldwork, too. The fulfilment I get from my work comes from seeing the impact it has when other scientists or organisations use the data that I produce in different fields such as climate change.


    What is GIS used for ?
    It is used by the public and private sectors to determine a suitable location for a new development, like a hospital or shopping centre. If there is a disaster, GIS and remote sensing is used to measure the impact of that disaster.


    Why is your job so important?
    South Africa needs the skills to design, build and operate its own satellites, and also the skills to interpret and derive useful information from satellite data. Even if this is not where your specific interests lie, there are other disciplines such as
    astronomy – and with the recent development of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, the future looks rather bright.


    What are the biggest challenges in this field?
    Understanding the users and generating information that is relevant to all users.


    What subjects are required at school?
    Mainly maths and science.


    Why did you choose this field?
    I have always been inspired by maths and science, and I was introduced to remote sensing after completing my honours degree in physics. The Institute of Satellite and Software Application (ISSA) gave me the opportunity to study further in this field.


    Where can remote sensing and GIS researchers work?
    Due to the broad application of the work they do, remote sensing and GIS researchers can be found in a very wide range of places, including research institutes, academic institutions, the environmental or agricultural sectors, the military or the government.


    Can you give us one example of a project you worked on that was very interesting and where you drew on your GIS skills and knowledge?
    I’ve worked on a project to develop a burnt-area database for the SADC region. That database was then used to produce the burnt-area statistics by administration zones and, for some countries, by their land cover types.


    Any advice for our readers?
    Remember that GIS is a rapidly developing field. This means that there is something new to learn almost every week and you have to keep studying in order to keep up-to-date with the new technological developments. So, if you like learning new things, this could be the field of work for you.


    Original article

  • 02 Feb 2016 3:33 PM | AARSE Admin (Administrator)
    Source: The Point; Article: Abdou Rahman Sallah


    The Ministry of Fisheries in collaboration with Monitoring on the Environment for Security in Africa (MESA) Friday concluded a three-day training on Earth Observation (EO) for members of the National Working Committee (NWC).

    The training held in Bijilo was organised to build capacities of participants on the use of Earth Observation Information to support fisheries management and safety at sea in West Africa.

    MESA was officially launched at a hotel in Kololi in December 2014 after the regional launching at the University of Legon in Accra, Ghana in August 2014.

    The project is meant to increase access to reliable and periodic EO coastal marine monitoring data and services, monitoring parameters to support fisheries management, monitoring parameters indicative of ocean states, and improving cooperation between African countries with European countries.

    Matarr Bah, director of the Department of Fisheries, said MESA is a pan-African programme that builds on results of previous projects such as the Preparation meant for Use of Meteosat Second Generation in Africa project (2001-2005), and the African Monitoring of Environment for Sustainable Development (2007-2013).

    He said these are to increase the information management, decision-making and planning capacity of African, regional and national institutions mandated for environment, climate change, food security and related responsibilities.These are to be increased by enhancing access to and exploitation of relevant EO applications in Africa.

    The director of Fisheries explained that the sector is presently threatened due to the impact of climate change, poor management practices and ever increasing challenges from Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing by both artisanal and industrial fisheries sectors.

    This contributes greatly to over-exploitation of fisheries and other marine resources, he said.

    “The consequences of IUU fishing are the scarcity of fisheries resources, lack of fish products in the markets and above all food insecurity,” Mr Bah said.

    “These are the important economic losses and irreversible threats of destruction of resources caused by IUU fishing, and as a result, the need for justifying and reinforcing national fisheries surveillance units, including active and collaboration of The Gambia Navy.”

    Therefore, he noted, MESA project will focus on assisting participating countries to develop capacity and use EO data to manage fisheries resources and ensure safety at sea including the eradication of IUU fishing.

    He urged the participants to take the training seriously for the effective implementation of the project.


    Gambia:National Forum on Earth Observation Kicks Off

    Original article


  • 02 Feb 2016 3:30 PM | AARSE Admin (Administrator)

    Source: All Africa; Article: Sheriff Barry


    The Ministry of Fisheries in collaboration with Monitoring on the Environment for Security in Africa (MESA) on Wednesday commenced a three-day training on Earth Observation (EO) for members of the National Working Committee (NWC).

    The training held at a Centre in Bijilo was centred on the theme, 'Building capacity for the use of Earth Observation Information to Support Fisheries management and safety at sea in West Africa'.

    It could be recalled that the Regional Project entitled 'Monitoring Environment and Security in Africa (MESA) was officially launched at the Paradise Suites Hotel on the 18th December, 2014 after the regional launching at the implementation Headquarters, University of Legon in Accra, Ghana from the 4th to 8th August, 2014.

    The objectives of the project is to increase access to reliable and periodic EO coastal marine monitoring data and services, monitoring parameters to support fisheries management, monitoring parameters indicative of ocean states, and improved cooperation between African countries (national and regional) with European countries.

    In declaring the workshop open, Matarr Bah, Director of the Department of Fisheries, deputising for the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Fisheries Abdoulie T.B Jarra, explained that MESA is a Pan-African programme that builds on results of previous projects, that is Preparation meant for Use of Meteosat Second Generation in Africa (PUMA) Project (2001-2005) and the African Monitoring of Environment for Sustainable Development (AMESD) programme (2007-2013).

    These, he said, are to increase the information management, decision-making and planning capacity of African continental, regional and national institutions mandated for environment, climate, food security and related responsibilities by enhancing access to, and exploitation of relevant Earth Observation (EO) applications in Africa.

    He further stated that the fisheries sector is presently threatened due to the impact of climate change, poor management practices and ever increasing challenges from Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (IUU fishing) by both artisanal and industrial fisheries sectors, thereby contributing to over exploitation of fisheries and other marine resources.

    "The consequences of IUU fishing are the scarcity of fisheries resources, lack of fish products in the markets and above all food insecurity. Added to these are the important economic losses and irreversible threats of destruction of resources caused by IUU fishing, and as a result, the need for justifying to reinforce national fisheries surveillance units, including active and collaboration of The Gambia Navy."

    Therefore, he noted, MESA project will focus on assisting participating countries to develop capacity and use EO data to manage fisheries resources and ensure safety at sea including the eradication of IUU fishing.

    He urged the participants to take the training seriously for the effective implementation of the project.


    Original article

  • 02 Feb 2016 3:25 PM | AARSE Admin (Administrator)

    Source: NASA Earth Observation


    An astronaut aboard the International Space Station looked toward the horizon as the spacecraft sped across southern Africa.

    The crew member used a short lens that mimics closely what the human eye seesin this case, a big panorama from a point over northern South Africa, looking southeast to the Indian Ocean.

    The image shows many details, but one of the most striking is the political boundary defining the small country of Lesotho, one of the few places on Earth where a political boundary can be seen from space. The greener, more vegetated South Africa agricultural landscape (with a very low population density) contrasts with the less vegetated, tan landscape of the Lesotho lowlands, where more dense populations live. Lesotho is a small enclave of 2 million people completely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa (population 53 million).
    The Katse Dam reservoir in Lesotho was built as part of an international agreement to increase the water supply to the many, rapidly growing cities of the distant Witwatersrand (lower left). In Africa's largest water transfer project, water from the high-rainfall zone in the mountains of Lesotho is fed from Katse through tunnels dug beneath the Maluti Mountains. The water then flows 250 kilometers (150 miles) in rivers to the Witwatersrand, South Africa's industrial heartland.

    ISS crews can visually pinpoint the Witwatersrand by the scatter of small, but prominent, light-toned mine dumps full of the waste material remaining after the extraction of gold. The mine dumps are the main feature that crews can readily see because even large cities can be difficult to detect from space as the ISS rapidly flies past. More than 12.3 million people live in this major urban region.

    One other detail stands out. A series of concentric lines indicates one of the Earth's oldest and largest visible impact craters. The Vredefort impact crater was caused by an asteroid 10 kilometers (6 miles) in diameter that impacted the region about 1.8 billion years ago. The original crater is estimated to have been 300 kilometers (200 miles) in diameter. Today it is eroded and partly obscured by younger rocks.

    Astronaut photograph ISS045-E-2492 was acquired on September 14, 2015, with a Nikon D4 digital camera using a 14 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 45 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by M. Justin Wilkinson, Texas State U., Jacobs Contract at NASA-JSC.


    View image

    Original article


  • 02 Feb 2016 3:22 PM | AARSE Admin (Administrator)

    Source: All Africa; Article: Clifford Gikunda


    Scientists from various research institutions in the region are carrying out a pilot project for gathering crop data using drones.

    The researchers from the University of Nairobi and the International Potato Centre (CIP) in partnership with the University of Missouri, regional civil aviation authorities, regional agricultural research institutes and regional statistics bodies, have started a pilot project in Tanzania, where a drone was able to pinpoint 14 different varieties of sweet potatoes in Ukiriguru Research Institute in Mwanza.

    "Crop statistics are important for planning, policy making and timely interventions to address food security," said Elijah Cheruiyot, a research associate in remote sensing at the International Potato Centre in Kenya.

    Drone-based remote sensing technology is a game changer in the gathering of agricultural statistics data. It is relatively cheaper; boasts high quality sensors and allows collection of accurate statistics on a large scale with minimal effects from clouds or rain, which in some cases blurs images taken by satellites.

    "The drone maps everything on the ground, after which the data is processed by specialised software and scientists can then zero in on their area of interest," said Mr Cheruiyot.


    Original article

  • 02 Feb 2016 3:03 PM | AARSE Admin (Administrator)

    Source: Earth Magazine; Article:Terri Cook


    In April 2008, violent protests erupted across the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti. Enraged by soaring food prices and all-too-frequent hunger pangs, protesters smashed windows, looted shops, barricaded streets with blazing cars and stormed the presidential palace in the capital, Port-au-Prince. The week of violence, during which five people were killed, flared after the cost of staples like beans and cooking oil spiked dramatically and the price of rice nearly doubled in four months, increasing hardships in a nation where 80 percent of the population survives on less than $2 per day. 

    So-called “food riots” aren’t restricted to the Caribbean. Between 2006 and 2008, as the cost of food, fuel oil and other commodities surged to levels not experienced in almost three decades, disturbances erupted around the planet. Large — and frequently violent — protests broke out in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. 

    Although many factors, like high unemployment, political frustration and poverty, contribute to social unrest, the timing of the 2007–2008 turbulence correlated clearly with peaks in global food prices. According to a study published in 2011 by the New England Complex Systems Institute, when the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Food Price Index rose above 180, food riots occurred in 30 countries. When the index decreased later that year, social unrest also declined. 

    In the past, price spikes like these have usually been short-lived, wrote Joel Bourne Jr. in his 2015 book, “The End of Plenty.” Things typically evened out quickly as global trade shifted grain from countries with surpluses to those with deficits, and farmers responded to higher prices by increasing planting. But in 2007–2008, the world’s grain harvests were close to record-setting levels. Unlike in the past, Bourne wrote, this time the increased prices — and the ensuing violence — were due to the fact that the world was running out of food.

    Feeding the world today is a daunting challenge; in the future, as global population skyrockets, it is likely to be a Herculean task. But researchers around the world are working on the problem, including how to implement the many changes that must happen locally at the farm level to effect large-scale change. But first, farmers need information. And that’s where science comes in.


    A Herculean Task

     Last summer, the planet’s population reached 7.3 billion. Of these, 795 million people lack enough food to lead healthy, active lifestyles, according to the United Nations World Food Program. In addition, more than 2 billion people currently suffer from “hidden hunger” — deficiencies in micronutrients such as iodine, vitamin A and iron — that can lead to blindness, stunted growth and restricted cognitive development.

    The world’s population is projected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion by 2050 and 11 billion by 2100, according to the United Nations World Population Prospects report released last July. Unlike previous estimates, which generally agreed that the planet’s population would peak at 9 billion to 9.5 billion people in about 2070, a statistical analysis published in 2014 in Science concluded that the planet’s population is unlikely to stabilize this century. There is now an 80 percent chance, the authors reported, that, by 2100, the planet will host between 9.6 billion and 12.3 billion people. 

    These numbers add up to roughly 75 million more mouths to feed each year. Add to that the increasing demand for grain from livestock to feed increasingly meat- and dairy-rich diets, as well as from biofuels, particularly in the U.S. and Europe, and all told, the FAO estimates that by 2050, the global food demand will rise more than 60 percent above 2005 levels. Other estimates suggest that number may be as high as 110 percent, says Deepak Ray, a senior scientist at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

    Rapidly increasing productivity is a big challenge, which will only be made more challenging by a changing climate that could bring increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, rising water levels along coasts, and larger and more frequent extreme-weather events, according to a report issued last August by the joint U.S.-U.K. Taskforce on Extreme Weather and Global Food System Resilience. 

    A 2012 study by the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research found the global food system contributes nearly one-third of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. As a driving force behind climate change, it creates a vicious cycle that will be difficult to break. Compounding these issues is the fact that agricultural production also impacts the environment through loss of biodiversity, degradation of soils, and pollution and use of sparse freshwater resources. How we meet the planet’s growing demand for food, while simultaneously mitigating agriculture’s environmental impacts, will be one of the 21st century’s greatest challenges.


    Gathering Global-Scale Information 

    Fortunately, the number of tools and technologies available to help humanity tackle this challenge is increasing. In 1999, Navin Ramankutty, now an agricultural geographer at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, fused satellite data with census reports, creating the first realistic global maps of agriculture. Since then, Ray says, scientists and managers have had access to increasingly detailed geospatial datasets like global crop yields and harvest frequencies, and insights from these data have transformed the field. “They revolutionized agronomy,” he says. 

    Since the launch of the Landsat program in 1972, remote sensing has played an integral role in agricultural mapping and monitoring. And the rapid improvements in Earth observation technologies in recent decades have offered opportunities to boost agricultural productivity and address critical issues in the world food system. 

    One of the leaders in this realm is the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), a voluntary partnership of governments and international organizations working to integrate Earth observations into resources that can guide policy decisions. In 2011, the Group of Twenty Agriculture Ministers tasked GEO with using remote sensing tools to strengthen agricultural monitoring. The goal of the resulting GLobal Agricultural Monitoring initiative (GEOGLAM) is to improve the international community’s capacity to both generate and disseminate timely, accurate forecasts of agricultural production at regional to global scales.

    One GEOGLAM partner is CropWatch, a program sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Sciences that relies heavily on remote sensing data to monitor global crop production. CropWatch issues quarterly bulletins that report global agroclimatic conditions as well as the status of major producers of maize, wheat, rice and soybeans — the “big four” crops that provide about 80 percent of all calories consumed by humans. 

    A 2013 review of CropWatch’s remote sensing products in the International Journal of Digital Earth found its estimates of crop conditions and acreage, and its predictions of crop yields and food production, to be highly accurate. Such data can offer early warnings of potential shortages so that timely interventions — such as the delivery of food aid — can be planned and implemented. 

    Ray and other researchers are also working on global production numbers. He and his colleagues have developed an extensive crop statistics database filled with satellite data that they use to analyze how crop yields are changing. Specifically, they’re interested in whether or not the world is on track to double global food production by 2050 to meet the projected demands without clearing additional land, which has widely acknowledged drawbacks due to greenhouse gas emissions and loss of biodiversity. How the productivity of the big four crops is increasing on existing agricultural land will determine whether we can meet these growing demands.

    In a 2013 analysis in PLOS One, Ray and his team concluded that most recent yields of the four major crops are increasing at 0.9 to 1.6 percent per year — nowhere near the annual rate of 2.4 percent necessary to double production by 2050. At current rates, only about a 38 percent increase in wheat, a 42 percent increase in rice, a 55 percent increase in soybeans and a 67 percent increase in maize production will be possible by 2050.

    The situation, Ray says, is that “most of the lands that could potentially be brought under crop cultivation have already been brought into production.”

    If increasing crop yields and expanding the area under cultivation aren’t possible or desirable, a third strategy is to increase the frequency of harvests on existing croplands, wrote Ray and ecologist Jonathan Foley, now executive director of the California Academy of Sciences, in a 2013 study in Environmental Research Letters. This could be accomplished by planting multiple crops per year, reducing crop failure and leaving less land fallow.

    By analyzing a global compilation of agricultural statistics, Ray and Foley uncovered significant differences in the frequency of cropland harvests in countries around the planet. Between 2000 and 2011, 19 countries in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa were statistically “unable to harvest their standing cropland even once every two years.” In other words, on average, farmers in these 19 nations failed to harvest even half of their crops each year. This was most likely due to crop failure caused by factors such as drought, lack of rainfall at the right times, catastrophic storms and pests. The researchers also identified a larger number of nations that are harvesting their croplands less than once, on average, per year, as well as numerous countries in the tropics which, despite the more favorable climate, are not meeting their potential of two or three harvests per year. 

    By calculating the maximum potential number of harvests in each country and comparing this with what’s actually happening, Ray and Foley identified “harvest gaps.” Such gaps “show the potential to grow more food on the same piece of land if conditions become more suitable.” Africa has the largest concentration of harvest gaps, followed by Asia and Latin America. Closing these gaps could boost agricultural production by nearly 50 percent above 2010–2011 levels, at least over the short term, although the researchers warned that increasing the frequency of harvests could also lead to the “long-term deterioration of soil, water resources and the agricultural land base.” Closing the gaps in a sustainable way may not be easy, Ray says, given that modern industrial-scale agriculture currently relies heavily on the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.


    Modeling the Future

    Scientists aren’t just modeling current production, but also how future agricultural production might be affected by the effects of a changing climate — increasing temperatures, variations in precipitation patterns, rising carbon dioxide concentrations, and increasing air pollution. 

    In 2009, NASA researchers Chris Funk and Molly Brown modeled the convergence of three trends — changes in climate, changes in agricultural production and population increases — and used the results to simulate the impacts on global cereal availability through 2030. The researchers concluded that by that time, global per capita cereal production will be about 327 kilograms, down from a peak of 372 kilograms in 1986. The projected decrease in per capita production could re-expose millions of people in Asia to chronic undernourishment. Even harder hit, however, would be eastern and central Africa, with their rapidly increasing populations and already low per capita cereal production levels. Without a “concerted effort,” the researchers noted, international food security will continue to erode, and much of the planet “will experience significant reductions in food availability as consumption demands increase.”

    In a warming world, modeling efforts like this provide critical input for formulating new regulations and policies at regional, national and international levels. Germany, for example, implemented a series of climate laws in 2007, one of which was an ordinance that ensures sustainability standards for biofuel production. The United Nations, meanwhile, suggests that changing regulations for mitigating pollution from ozone — whose formation strongly correlates with temperature — is an important strategy for safeguarding food production. 

    To understand how ozone affects the production of the planet’s major crops, a team led by Amos Tai, now an associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, modeled the individual and combined effects of mean temperature and ozone pollution trends from 2000 to 2050 on the production of the four major crops. 

    In a 2014 Nature Climate Change study, the researchers estimated that the combined effects could reduce global crop production by more than 10 percent by 2050. They also found that wheat and rice production is generally more sensitive to ozone than maize or soybeans. Depending upon the modeled pollution scenario, the study predicts declines in wheat production of 50 to 60 percent by 2050 in southern Asia, and rice production decreases of up to 5 percent in both southern Asia and China.

    Much work also needs to be done to understand the uncertainties inherent in models used to assess environmental and economic impacts, wrote John Ingram and co-authors in their 2010 book, “Food Security and Global Environmental Change.” “A major limitation of most models,” they wrote, “is that they may address only individual components of the food system and thus are unable to analyze the interactive effects and feedbacks among components.”

    To make modeling assessments more reliable, a major interdisciplinary initiative, Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project, led by Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, is working to improve projections of the impacts of climate change on the agricultural sector, with the goal of increasing the ability of all nations to adapt to this change, the researchers say.

    The project has organized teams of scientists to improve predictions of agricultural productivity in response to such factors as high temperatures, elevated carbon dioxide concentrations, and limited water resources. Similar teams, organized by model type, crop type and region, are working to improve and integrate environmental and food system models to better understand the relative importance of each of these factors.


    Amazing GRACE

    Water is certainly going to be a limiting factor — if not the limiting factor — for feeding 11 billion people. Until recently, agricultural paradigms have focused primarily on improving agricultural production, often to the detriment of the environment, wrote a team led by Foley in a 2011 Nature paper. Unsustainable water withdrawals, particularly in regions with competing water demands, are one of many factors affecting food security, especially given that at least half of the irrigation water used to grow the world’s food is supplied by groundwater, wrote Jay Famiglietti, a professor of earth systems science and civil and environmental engineering at the University of California at Irvine, in a 2014 Nature Climate Change commentary.

    Around the planet, groundwater is being extracted at much greater rates than it’s being naturally replenished, and many of the world’s largest aquifers — almost all of which underlie and are largely responsible for enormously productive agricultural regions — are being unsustainably pumped. To meet the planet’s growing demand for food, groundwater needs to be more carefully managed, especially in crucial agricultural areas, Famiglietti wrote. 

    In recent years, NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) has become a critical tool for monitoring agricultural groundwater withdrawals. The mission’s twin satellites make detailed measurements of Earth’s gravity field, which allow scientists to calculate changes in the mass of terrestrial water storage, including groundwater, soil moisture and snow, at regional to continental scales. GRACE is providing unprecedented data about groundwater depletion, which are helping scientists anticipate future food security issues around the planet. 

    In northwestern India, for example, there has been indirect evidence for years of severe groundwater depletion in the “breadbasket” states of Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan. In 2009, a group of scientists, led by Matthew Rodell, chief of the Hydrological Sciences Laboratory at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, used GRACE data to confirm that groundwater in the region was being extracted at an average rate of almost 18 cubic kilometers per year from 2002 through 2008. In certain parts of Haryana, local rates of water table decline are as high as 10 meters per year, the researchers reported in Nature.

    If measures aren’t taken soon to ensure the sustainable use of groundwater in that region, Rodell and his colleagues wrote, the consequences may include shortages of potable water, a reduction of agricultural output and severe socioeconomic stresses. In addition, they noted, competition for limited water resources with neighboring Pakistan, where groundwater is essential for much of the arid nation’s agricultural output, is likely to aggravate the already-tense relations between the two countries.

    Gathering tremendous amounts of global-scale data with advanced agricultural monitoring tools is vital, but farming is still a local endeavor. Somehow, all of that information has to be transferred down to the local farmer, who must be able to use it.


    Going Local: Smallscale Changes

    Lack of access to information that affects farming practices, such as temperature highs and lows and precipitation records, has historically made it difficult for “smallholder” farmers — family farmers who manage 1 to 10 hectares of land — to make informed decisions regarding how much of which crops they should plant, and when. This is particularly true in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, where smallholders provide up to 80 percent of local food supplies, according to the FAO. There are an estimated half-billion smallholder farms on the planet.

    The recent advent of open data practices, which allow users with Internet access to pull, process and share information from multiple sources, could enable faster and more effective decision-making by on-the-ground smallholders, fostering innovation and offering transparency, according to a 2015 report by the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition initiative.

     Open data are increasingly being used to underpin mobile phone apps for farmers, who can use them to access critical agricultural information in a timely manner. One example is Plantwise, a program led by the nonprofit Center for Agriculture and Biosciences International that aims to reduce pest- and disease-induced crop losses, which can be as high as 40 percent per year globally. By combining open-access data from a variety of sources into easy-to-search formats, Plantwise has developed a series of tools that help farmers diagnose what is harming their crop, alert them to pest outbreaks and provide access to more than 9,000 fact sheets with information on best practices to prevent crop losses. Within a couple of years, Plantwise has helped more than 2 million smallholder farmers in 33 developing countries.

     Another effort using data analysis to help farmers in Colombia pinpointed the reasons for a 17 percent drop in rice yields from 2007 to 2012. After analyzing large datasets from both open and private sources, the nonprofit International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) helped develop a free agricultural decision-making tool for Colombian rice growers. When their analyses forecast a period of drought, CIAT offered planting advice to any farmer accessing the data, helping the farmers avoid an estimated $3.6 million in potential losses, according to a 2015 report by the Overseas Development Institute. The program is now being expanded to include rice growers in Peru and Nicaragua.

    In Central and South America, Africa, India and other regions, billions of people are facing a future of food insecurity and the social unrest that could accompany it. Fortunately, a growing number of tools and technologies have the potential to provide tangible local benefits that will cumulatively allow us to confront these challenges. Increasing crop yields, slight shifts in diet and reductions in food loss and waste can collectively free up enough food to meet most demands, Ray says, although he emphasizes that there are no easy answers. The critical question, he says, is whether we can make these changes faster than the world’s hungry population grows.


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