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Use Space Technology for Food Security “Former ISRO Chief”

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A growing number of developing countries are using scientific, technological and innovative solutions to monitor crops more efficiently and meet the growing challenges of climate change.

On May 28, 24 participants from 12 countries – Afghanistan, Algeria, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nigeria, South Africa, Syria, Thailand, Turkey and Zambia – completed a two-month online workshop on the application of a system to monitor crops using satellite data.

The system is provided by the CropWatch Innovative Cooperation Program (CropWatch-ICP), an initiative that grew out of discussions at the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD).

Food security is increasingly at risk due to climate change. In the equatorial tropics, every 1°C increase in average temperature results in a 10 percent drop in crop yields.

“We are seeing the effects of accelerating climate change in the form of droughts and hurricanes, and they have become almost the norm. Using space technology to monitor crops has become a national emergency mission,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD director of technology and logistics.

Practical technical assistance
During the online workshop, participants learned about the theory, methodology and application of the CropWatch system.

“This was a completely new area, and we learned a lot from this program,” said Arty Gungoosingh Bunwaree, senior researcher at the Food and Agricultural Research and Extension Institute in Mauritius.

Rakiya Baba Maaji, deputy director of the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency, said, “We have always wanted to use space technologies but lacked the impetus. But with this program, we were able to make a good presentation to our boss, and we’re excited about the next steps.”

Using the CropWatch system and the knowledge and experience gained, participants from six countries have already submitted their country analyses and data to the global CropWatch bulletin, which provides an overview of crop status and agroclimatic conditions in each country.

“I am very pleased that some countries have already contributed to this bulletin,” Sirimanne said.

Tailoring to specific challenges
The program’s partners, UNCTAD, the Alliance of International Scientific Organizations (ANSO) and the Aerospace Information Research Institute (AIR) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), are now busy with the next steps: virtual field missions and adapting CropWatch for technology transfer.

“This is a program designed for country-specific needs. It is the adaptation of the CropWatch system to each country’s needs that adds tremendous value,” Sirimanne said.

“I’ve learned that CropWatch is an effective tool for monitoring crops. Now we want to include other crops such as cereals, potatoes and olives to meet local needs,” says Djamel Mansour, an engineer with the Algerian Space Agency.

“Our office is very interested in adapting the CropWatch platform because we don’t have to make additional investments in infrastructure and at the same time we can improve our ability to monitor crops, in our case rice,” says Jatuporn Nontasiri, senior statistician at Thailand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.

The CropWatch team’s lecturers and experts are now looking to engage other countries to contribute to the next CropWatch bulletin in August by continuing to provide support and training to participants.

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