First real-time digital platform to monitor rice fields can bolster food security

Researchers are developing the first real-time monitoring platform for rice fields, which will give information about the quantity of rice planted and the harvest achieved

By Meenakshi Sushma
Published: Monday 13 July 2020

The world may soon get its first real-time paddy-field monitoring platform, which will give information on the quantity of rice planted and the harvest achieved. 

The app, being built by researchers from the University of Sydney, can help meet the United Nations-mandated sustainable development goal No.2 — of ‘Zero Hunger’.

The project has been undertaken in collaboration with Google Earth and the Group on Earth Observations.

“Accurate and up-to-date information on how much rice has been planted can be achieved and will be available on the app. This is crucial to achieving global food and water security,” said project leader Budiman Minasny, from the Sydney Institute of Agriculture at the university. 

He added that the project would use the Google Earth Engine to build the first real-time mobile application that will allow farmers, agricultural scientists, non-government organisations and government planners to manage land use to ensure food security in the world’s rice bowls.

How will it work

The real-time land-use data will be generated using Google Earth and will be verified by field operators in India, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. This will allow the agricultural scientists to monitor and ensure their accuracy worldwide.

These five countries hold the position of the largest rice-producing countries across the globe. Among these, India, China and Indonesia are the world’s three largest producers of rice and together account for about 60 per cent of the total world production.

Jointly developed with the University Malaysia Terengganu, the mobile monitoring app Paddy Watch will allow farmers, scientists and agricultural economists to: 

  • determine the extent of arable land under rice cropping in near real-time
  • estimate potential yields
  • manage water use and water security;
  • account for greenhouse gas emissions (paddy rice releases methane)
  • develop policies for education, economic growth, gender equity, and reducing social inequality

Using the Google Earth Engine and cloud computing technology, the project will improve on the work using deep-learning techniques to forecast crop yields and water consumption.

“The project is digital agriculture writ large on a global canvas and digital agriculture is post-industrial agriculture. This type of technology means we can have confidence in our ability to feed the world’s population in a sustainable way,” according to Alex McBratney, professor and director of the Sydney Institute for Agriculture and Professor of Digital Agriculture and Soil Science.

Paddy Watch is being developed in partnership with Universiti Malaysia Terengganu; the Indonesian Centre for Agricultural Land Resources Research and Development in the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture; IADA Ketara, Ministry of Agriculture, Malaysia; the Institute of Soil Science at the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Indian Agricultural Research Institute; and RIICE remote sensing, Vietnam.

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