(14 June 2013) Satellites are being used to promote agriculture in one of the world’s poorest countries.
Named after the river that traverses the country from east to west, The Gambia is the smallest nation on mainland Africa.
The majority of the population depends on agriculture for its livelihood, but the country’s land is constantly subject to soil erosion, degradation and sea-water intrusion from the Atlantic Ocean. Irregular rains are also responsible for frequent crop losses.
To monitor and evaluate The Gambia’s agricultural development, satellites are mapping crops and land cover.
Together with the Swiss Earth observation service provider, Sarmap, ESA is supporting the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) by mapping the whole country using radars on multiple satellites. These include observations from Japan’s ALOS satellite, the Cosmo-SkyMed mission and historical data from ESA’s Envisat.
The project is establishing a baseline to understand current agricultural practices and document changes from year to year.
The collaboration is part of IFAD’s Participatory Integrated Watershed-Management Project – or PIWAMP – and the National Agricultural Land and Water Management Development Project, called Nema.
Under these projects, IFAD and The Gambian government are focusing together on poor, rural communities and their participation in local government, as well improving agricultural production while safeguarding the environment. Special effort is put into helping the people in the lowlands close to the river to increase the production of rice, one of the country’s staple foods.
“It is pleasing to see the remarkable progress since the launch of this pilot a few months ago,” said Ides de Willebois, Director of IFAD’s West and Central Africa Division.
“In the case of The Gambia, the timing is relevant as the expected results will show the impact of PIWAMP’s intervention in rice production since the beginning of the project, as well as provide relevant and baseline data for other projects in the country.
“One of the most important results of this initiative is that it gives us hard evidence that we can use in policy dialogue with the government and other donors. This helps us mobilise more resources to invest in smallholder agriculture, thus boosting economic growth that is sustainable and inclusive.”
Collecting in situ data
As a part of this activity, ESA, Sarmap and IFAD are also working with rural people to build capacity. This involves educating field technicians on how to collect crop information for validating space-based maps to ensure their accuracy.
ESA’s TIGER initiative has also been active in capacity building in Africa over the last decade, training African water authorities and researchers in exploiting satellite data and Earth observation technology for sustainable water resource management.
The Gambia effort is one of 30 separate projects that ESA is carrying out with small European service providers to demonstrate the benefits of Earth observation information to multilateral development institutions in connection with their operations in developing countries.
The upcoming Sentinel series of satellites being developed under Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme will continue to provide operational data to organisations like IFAD.
Sentinel-2 will provide complete coverage of Earth every five days at a resolution of 10 m – particularly useful for monitoring agriculture and detecting change.