New Data Helps Track Food Crises Before They Start

Decision makers rely on agricultural productivity models to help predict where and when food crises hit, and may need help. In areas where data are scarce, especially in the developing world, satellites can lend a hand in closing the gap of data. Now, new data is being incorporated into tools with potential use better marketing plans to address threats to food security.

Sophisticated NASA satellites have their eyes on the surface of the Earth and the atmosphere of heaven every day, drawing on data ranging from climate to wildfires. To ensure that your data is put to good use, NASA has begun to work with users to tailor the collection and delivery of data to your needs even before satellites are launched. This is the first time that NASA is using this new approach, and is weighing in at CCAFS data applications that make better food security oriented decision-making.

NASA is preparing to launch a new satellite, Active Hydrating Passive (SMAP) satellite Ground, which collects data of surface soil moisture in a resolution of 9 meters each 2-3 days, a significant improvement on the sources of existing data. To run the model yields used in many decisions of agricultural and food security, soil moisture data are needed on this scale to capture what happens on the ground.

Research Theme CCAFS Climate Risk Management is working to improve the tools prior information for farmers and decision makers from food security, including a crop modeling platform open source that can be adapted to the needs of users. As part of this effort, CCAFS is supporting researchers at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA (JPL) in improving predictions of crop yield through the use of satellite data.

These researchers are working with developers to ensure that satellite SMAP new sensor data outputs are ready for crop modeling and applications of early warning for food security. As “early adopters”, these researchers are accelerating the use of new data and the transition from research to operational use.

Errors inherent in the models, and uncertainty about the weather conditions that may be additive to drought during the season: in predicting crop growth season, the researchers about types of uncertainty faced. Uncertainty about weather conditions can be reduced when climate models join forces with crop models.

CCAFS Regional Agricultural Forecasting Toolbox (CRAFT) and provides tools to incorporate climate forecasts in models of crop yield, but satellite data provides additional information, especially when there are gaps in the meteorological data measured on the ground. By incorporating observations of soil moisture in the model crop yields throughout the growing season, production estimates can be improved, especially after the season, giving food security planners a better idea where the needs are.

Check out other forms CCAFS is making data available for research and agricultural development: Climate data sought by hundreds of agencies agricultural development worldwide

Satellite data is particularly useful in areas where weather data is scarce, often in remote, drought-prone regions of sub-Saharan Africa, where early warnings about food security are needed most.

And yields on small farms in particular are difficult to control. Current satellites take soil moisture readings to a resolution of about 40 kilometers, so that data from small farms is lost. Working with users and CCAFS, spatial resolution 9km SMAP was designed to overcome this limitation and expected better food safety for small farms reading, and ultimately support food security making better targeted decisions.