Members of the NASA Harvest consortium recently co-authored a working paper for the United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction on how Earth observations (EO) can be used to support risk-informed decision making. The paper covers a variety of disaster responses from flooding and wildfires to seismic activity. Harvest Consortium members focused on how EO data is being used to monitor shocks to global agriculture and help mitigate global food insecurity.
Contributing to the paper were NASA Harvest’s Food Security Early Warning Co-Lead, Christina Justice; Africa Program Lead, Catherine Nakalembe; Co-Founder and current NASA Acres Director, Alyssa Whitcraft; Crop Condition Co-Lead, Brian Barker; and Program Director, Inbal Becker-Reshef.
Decision- and policymakers require accurate, easy to understand, and timely access to data as they implement daily policies and respond to emerging crises. The authors argue that EO data is vital for this role and document various case studies demonstrating how previous EO applications have successfully informed disaster responses.
From the agriculture perspective, the paper discusses the GEOGLAM, or Group on Earth Observations Global Agricultural Monitoring initiative. Initiated by G20 mandate in 2011, GEOGLAM was charged with providing timely, accurate, and regular information on global agricultural production and impending shortfalls. Over the past 12 years, GEOGLAM has conducted its mission led and coordinated by a core team at University of Maryland through the creation of international, consensus based monthly Crop Monitor reports, as well as working with individual countries to support and enhance national crop monitoring capabilities. The GEOGLAM Crop Monitor provides monthly consensus based assessments of agricultural conditions at the global scale.
The Crop Monitor for AMIS (Agricultural Market Information System), describes growing conditions for major commodity crops (rice, soybean, maize, and wheat) in the major producing and exporting countries. This report has brought together more than 40 partners from across the world to create a monthly consensus of these crop conditions since its creation in 2013.
Following the success of the Crop Monitor for AMIS, the Crop Monitor for Early Warning (CM4EW), launched in 2016, provides consensus based assessments over countries at risk of food insecurity and where regular and updated monitoring is key to support early warning and early action The Crop Monitor for Early Warning collaborates with the primary global food and agricultural monitoring organizations, regional bodies, and national governments to provide early warning of emerging food crises and support early preparedness and early action.
Given how quickly crises can develop due to conflict or other unforeseen scenarios, efforts to create a rapid, ad hoc reporting mechanism has resulted in the Crop Monitor Special and Conflict Reports. The former has produced information on topics like changing El Niño/La Nina oscillations and flooding in the DPRK. The latter has helped shed light on production in conflict zones like Syria, Yemen, and Northern Ethiopia.
These efforts have also been downscaled at the regional and national level across Eastern and broader Sub-Saharan Africa under the same Crop Monitor framework to support enhanced monitoring by national agencies and regional organizations using EO data. Regionally, the reporting mechanism was adopted by the Eastern Africa Intergovernmental Authority on Development Climate Prediction and Applications Center (IGAD ICPAC).
National Crop Monitors have been developed in collaboration with the governments of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Mali and Rwanda. These efforts have improved the ability of governments to respond to crises, with one particular example being the government of Uganda implemation of a Disaster Risk Financing program that provided income alternatives to farmers facing crop shortages. The EO-based monitoring program helped over 300,000 Ugandans and creating significant cost savings for the Ugandan government as the program allowed it to act proactively vs reactively.
The published paper also explores how EO data is helping improve disaster resiliency for geohazards like seismic and volcanic activity; wildfires; flooding; landslides; and the improvement of disaster databases, emergency response, and recovery efforts. Read more about how Earth observations are used to improve agricultural production, resiliency and food security as well as the above applications in the article here.