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Satellite Data for Crop Monitoring - A Conversation with Inbal Becker-Reshef

Inbal Becker-Reshef at AMIS RRP

We spoke with Inbal Becker-Reshef, Harvest Director, to understand the background and outcomes of a meeting held with the G20’s AMIS Rapid Response Forum last month to promote sharing satellite data for crop monitoring between countries. 

Inbal Becker-Reshef

Inbal, you were in Geneva last month discussing the use of satellite data for crop monitoring with the G20 (Group of 20). What happened at that meeting?

This event was a side event of the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) Rapid Response Forum (RFF), an annual meeting of policy makers engaged in the AMIS process hosted at the AMIS Secretariat. 

Recognizing the long-term relationship that GEOGLAM and AMIS have had and the advantages it presents, it seemed to be the right time to bring the two communities together in a panel setting, have G20 countries share experiences about making decisions using remote sensing, and also share cutting edge research ready for applications. Canada, the current AMIS Chair, asked GEOGLAM to organize such a panel. 


What is the purpose of the Rapid Response Panel? 

AMIS and GEOGLAM were launched in 2011 by the G20 after spikes in international markets, as a way to reduce their volatility through improved access to data. By integrating remotely sensed observations from satellites with field measurements, GEOGLAM and its partners help generate reliable, accurate, timely and continuous information on crop conditions and yield forecasts. The AMIS RRF was formed as a venue to respond to major policy or market events such as price spikes, with the intention that the forum would meet in such times of crisis, 

Since 2012, international markets haven’t seen major price spikes, and markets have been relatively stable. That said, the RRF does convene on an annual basis to develop good working relationships and have discussions around key policy issues.

Why did GEOGLAM convene this panel, and how does it interact with AMIS? 

GEOGLAM and AMIS have had a close partnership since 2012, which has been key in building trust - both within GEOGLAM communities, such as communications between remote sensing colleagues within research organizations and in research arms of ministries of agriculture, as well as across communities such as the remote sensing and policy/economics communities. Significant progress has been made with this critical trust building. 

GEOGLAM has become one of the member international organizations of the steering committee of AMIS, which indicates the importance of that partnership and the data that GEOGLAM produces for AMIS. GEOGLAM produces the AMIS Crop Monitor, one of the key inputs to AMIS Market Monitor, published 10 times a year.

GEOGLAM, as well as Harvest (NASA’s contribution to GEOGLAM), is intended to strengthen national use and uptake of satellite data, an important goal of the meeting. 

AMIS Rapid Response Panel

Who presented at the meeting? Were there other NASA Harvest partners participating, and what were their roles?

One of the main reasons driving this event is that there have been major recent improvements in satellite technologies, including new satellites such as the Sentinels and CubeSats, and advances in Big Data. While the vision for remote sensing for agriculture has remained mostly the same since the 1970s, we’re at a turning point now where we can move out of the research domain into operations and deploy these tools to better understand agriculture and food security across the globe.

What we are seeing now is increased uptake; satellite data are playing an increasing role across the agricultural sector, from ministries of agriculture to precision agriculture, to humanitarian organizations.

The panel was held at this critical time to recognize that it is not enough to have advances in data/technology, but to fully realize the impact these developments can have, there needs to be close relationship between research and policy communities. 

The objectives of the panel were to share experiences across countries of how they are using satellite data as key inputs for informing decisions, agricultural statistics, policies, and cost-saving measures. On the research side, the panel was intended to highlight state of the art technologies, and applicability for a transition into operations. The panel was also an opportunity to discuss some of the challenges and limitations around uptake and use of satellite data, and come away with some way forward and set of priorities for collaboration between GEOGLAM and AMIS communities. For example are there certain countries and crops where there are large uncertainties that could have significant impact on international agricultural markets, where there may be space for the GEOGLAM community to develop needed products.

Who was there from the US? How does Harvest participate?  

I organized the panel and participated in it, as the focal point to the steering committee of AMIS. I opened the panel bringing the context of the GEOGLAM-AMIS Relationship. 

Joe Glauber, Harvest partner and Chief Economist at IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute), spoke about his Harvest work on the value of earth observations for international agricultural markets. Rob Johansson, Current Chief Economist for USDA, which includes several Harvest partners, spoke about how USDA is using satellite data within their operational activities. Pierre Defourny, of UC Louvain and upcoming Harvest partner, talked about remote sensing implications of common agriculture policy. Matt Hansen, University of Maryland and Harvest Hub member, spoke about his Harvest work on soybean area estimation across the Americas. 

An important story about the Canadian experience developing new products through the GEOGLAM-AMIS forum was presented by Tony MacDougal, Agriculture/AgriFood Canada, and Ian Jarvis, current GEOGLAM Director and Harvest partner also of Agriculture/AgriFood Canada.  Ian was involved in the research side of the Ministry of Agriculture in Canada, while Tony is the representative from AMIS and is on the economics and policy side. In part through interacting through the AMIS-GEOGLAM forum, MacDougal became more aware of the remote sensing research group work under Jarvis. They replaced their September survey with solely remote sensing data; this is very important, as they found that this did not significantly reduce accuracy, while it did reduce both cost and farmer burden. 

What were the main takeaways and outcomes?

It is important to share remote sensing activities between countries. These are technologies that have the potential to be more impactful, and their uptake is enabling the community to develop faster, more accurate crop projections and crop maps. Earth observation technologies are going to help ministries of agriculture in their decision making and policies, whether for informing statistics, providing information earlier, reducing farmer burden, looking at compliance issues such as subsidies, or being able to observe what was planted. It is important for this group of high-level policy makers and researchers to hear what is happening in applications.

At the event, AMIS formally requested GEOGLAM to observe countries where there is high uncertainty in production forecast ahead of harvest. Harvest in its capacity as a key contributor to GEOGLAM will be working on this topic. 

Most AMIS representatives participated in this panel. This is exactly what we need to be doing - we need to have high level policy discussions that drive the requirements and development of remote sensing and applications, with participants who fully understand capabilities and limitations of applying the technology. A similar event for gathering information from stakeholder in East Africa is currently being planned under Harvest. We want to make an impact and make sure we understand where earth observations could be supporting decision making.

News Date
Mar 15, 2019