Climate Change

Now, satellite data can better manage our natural resources

A joint partnership between the Food and Agriculture Organization and Google has made this possible

Published: Friday 15 April 2016

High-resolution satellite data can be used to manage our natural resources efficiently and this can change the way the world pursues sustainable development.

A joint partnership between the Food and Agriculture Organization and Google has made this possible.

The collaboration allows resource managers and researchers in several countries to gauge changing uses of individual field-sized land plots as seen by eye-in-the-sky satellites.

This can offer a giant leap towards our assessment of a landscape’s carbon storage capacity and even plan a country’s approach to greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva, Google and the UN food agency are “ushering in an unprecedented level of environmental literacy”.

Focus on forestry

The initial focus is the forestry sector where national experts can be trained to use FAO’s software and Google’s accessible geospatial data archives to conduct mapping and classification exercises easily that used to take weeks or months.

Future collaboration may lead to innovation in dietary nutrition, pest control, water management and climate change.

“The more people (are) involved, the better it works,” said Graziano da Silva. “Understanding the effects of climate change, planning the improvements in the efficiency of production and distribution of food and monitoring progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals require more frequent and precise data on the environment and its changes,” he added.

Power of technology

FAO’s Locust Control Unit has used Earth Engine to improve forecasts and control desert locust outbreaks. Satellites cannot detect the dreaded insects, but can accelerate the identification of potential breeding sites and make ground interventions more effective.

Other applications of the technology may reduce crop loss and improve plant health. Forest cover monitoring has proven useful in Costa Rica, as trees provide habitat for birds that predate on the coffee berry borer beetle, which can ravage up to 75 per cent of a coffee farmer’s crop.

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