The American Geophysical Union (AGU) annual Fall meeting was held last week in Washington DC. With more than twenty thousand attendees, AGU is the largest international conference of researchers in the world. Harvest leadership and many partners had a significant presence at dozens of sessions, illustrating the critical return of agricultural remote sensing to AGU, which has gained new interest from researchers and actors in a variety of sectors. Harvest itself led a series of sessions on Thursday December 13, titled "Earth Observations for Food Security and Agriculture: Synthesizing Public and Private Sector Knowledge".
Harvest Presence at AGU Sessions
Inbal Becker-Reshef, Harvest Program Director, presented at the NASA Hyperwall on Thursday 13 December about Harvest's importance and how we use earth observations to inform and improve agriculture. She pointed out that due to new technology we are able to use Earth Observation data to inform agriculture better than ever; however, many of the most vulnerable smallholder farmers have smaller fields that present challenges to using remotely sensed imagery, so field work must continue to focus on these needs. She presented also on work in East Africa for developing new crop monitors for early warning.
Alyssa Whitcraft, Harvest Associate Director and Manager, presented on Tuesday 11 December at the session "Earth Observation Applications in Support of Global Policy Frameworks" on GEOGLAM's work on EO for agriculture and policy; she highlighted the Uganda Crop Monitor as a leading example of EO data informing decision making and supporting livelihoods. A quote from Martin Owor, Commissioner at the Office of the Prime Minister of Uganda, illustrated the use of remote sensing data: "In the past we always reacted to crop failure, spending billions of shillings to provide food aid in the region. 2017 was the first time we acted proactively because we had clear evidence from satellite data very early in the season."
Other Harvest partners presented at a variety of AGU sessions. Esteban Copati of Buenos Aires Grain Exchange presented "Remote sensing observations capture Winter crop rotation in Argentina", research he worked on with Harvest UMD Hub partners Michael Humber, Estefania Puricelli, Antonio Sanchez, Ritvik Sahajpal and Becker-Reshef. Catherine Nakalembe of the Harvest UMD Hub presented on her work in Uganda developing the regional crop monitor. Harvest partner David Lobell of Stanford presented "Impacts on Maize and Wheat Crops of Alternative Warming Scenarios" and a session on smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa. Partners Chris Funk and Greg Husak of UCSB's Climate Hazards Center presented in a few sessions, including on EO for environmental decision making. Partner Amy McNally presented on Routine Food and Water Security Monitoring Using NASA Earth Observation.
Harvest Session, Earth Observations for Food Security and Agriculture: Synthesizing Public and Private Sector Knowledge
This series, organized by Harvest, included an oral presentations component, a panel (including both private sector and public sector actors), and a poster session following the presentations.
Becker-Reshef started the session by discussing the importance of remote sensing for agriculture. Crop production forecasts can be informed by timely, accurate, and repeated information earth observation provides; Joe Glauber, Harvest partner at IFPRI, has worked to determine the significant value of EO for agriculture.
Presenters then discussed their varied experiences using earth observations data to inform applications for food security. Nataliia Kussul (Space Research Institute NAS Ukraine and SSA Ukraine) illustrated how for crop classification, there is no one technology that is most effective, so a fusion of all approaches is essential. Kaiyu Guan (University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign) reviewed how by excluding what data sources have in common, we can find unique information to inform yield forecasting. Kiersten Johnson of USAID discussed how the Feed the Future program incorporates earth observation data to inform their critical food security work throughout the program cycle.
Jared Oyler of BASF explored the performance of the High-Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR) forecast point-based model, looking at precipitation, wind speed and temperature. Kenneth Pelman of ASRC Federal presented the GADAS tool, available online to view agriculture visualization, map charting and data profiles. Celine Lamarche of Catholic University of Louvain examined the use of Sen2Agri and its development from a project to a system for crop monitoring that can inform EU policy and practices. Soonho Kim of IFPRI shared results from their NASA Harvest project team's cross collaboration with Harvest UMD Hub on pre-harvest loss estimation in Tanzania. The team tests models using satellite Earth Observation and drones; surveys are used to groundtruth the data.
After the break, panelists presented their experiences with public-private partnerships on EO for food security research. Nate Torbick of Applied Geosolutions discussed the importance of operational moderate resolution EO driving the next generation of data, and the need for diverse tools for management, reporting and verification (MRV). Kevin Horn of USAID Geocenter illustrated how EO data can help compare areas in countries where they work, determining where food price shocks, food insecurity, and impact are highest. Hamed Alemohammad of Radiant Earth Foundation emphasized the need for open source geospatial data. Sylvain Coutu of Swiss Re gave examples of missed opportunities and successes experienced in public-private collaborations. Rinkal Patel of Corteva explained the importance of an industry focus on digital solutions, yield modeling and farmer/partner collaborations for decision making. Molly Brown of 6th Grain talked about the expansion of agritech for digital farming solutions in underserved markets.
Later, the panelists discussed challenges of working between sectors, successes and failures, and ways forward. The discussions indicated that public-private collaborations require flexibility from both sides, an emphasis on capacity building, incentives for farmers and other actors. To overcome gaps in information, good communication and interaction with end users, especially farmers, are crucial for success. Metrics of publications are not an effective measure of a program's success - more accurate metrics must be used to determine a partnership's effectiveness. Researchers and decision-makers need to listen carefully and understand what data farmers need so that applications are useful and provide value. Panelists pointed out that while government and NGO actors need to lead to avoid bias, private sector actors must be included in discussions from the start for effective partnerships.