Ensuring our food security from space
Most agriculture today is produced through monocultures - One crop per field, making it easier to harvest and avoid the nuisances of animals determined to eat or damage crops. Wide-open spaces, ripe for the picking and ideal for large scale management, heavy machines that can plough the fields, and pesticides can be sprayed across the expanse to avoid insect damage. Despite the supposed ‘safety, it brings our food, it also has many, notable disadvantages.
Figure 1: Monocropping and tillage lead to large soil depletion and carbon emissions.
Monocrops are particularly vulnerable to pests and diseases, and some plants perform suboptimally in full light conditions or even without the biodiversity offered by other plant and animal species. The ground gets depleted without natural rejuvenation and is usually only harvested once per year. It is widely known that some crop species work well with intercropping, planting multiple species in a field, but for many, we can take it even further - Agroforestry.
Figure 2: Agroforestry intercropping. Image by Maurício Uchôa Bruttos .
With agroforestry, agriculture and forests get mixed to the advantage of gaining harvest quality, vegetation health and even better carbon storage. Trees provide benefits to the other vegetation offering roots that run deep, storing water and supporting soil against erosion, nutrient and water loss. Additionally, they work to reestablish nutrient content and provide protection to plants from the elements, and shelter to pest-eating wildlife - the most “natural pesticide”, no? With new technologies and new demands of agriculture (better production, carbon sequestration, less use of toxic substances, etc.), agroforestry begins to meet the mark again and again. While the baselines of the techniques are rooted in ancient farming tactics, they were not conventional at the time.
To spread information, assist management and aid farmers, Space4Good provides geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing (RS) services to generate and disseminate knowledge. Working with our partner Arsari Enviro and company CSO and founder of Masarang Foundation, Willie Smits, Space4Good works to leverage remote sensing to best support agroforestry efforts. Willie and his team now work tirelessly to convert a whole deforested area in Indonesia back into a vibrant forest, while also applying these regenerative agriculture principles. Take a look at his TedTalk on ‘How to restore a Rainforest’ here.
What exactly Space4Good does with GIS and RS is transform input data based on satellite imagery in conjunction with in situ data through an integrated agroforestry management platform. Currently being developed in our partners Arsari Enviro Industri, the platform informs land managers as to various activities, such as deforestation and fires in the regions, land use insights and alert systems. Additionally, insights into agroforestry health and recommendations for market reliable information are provided. In other words, we can help farmers to assess their land’s suitability and determine exactly what, when and where to harvest to optimize their parcels and reduce unnecessary wastes. We are also able to determine, among other things, what areas of the land’s farmers can sequester most carbon for biomass or even if there are potential insect pests that can damage the crops, as we already did in Switzerland with the bark beetles pest.
Figure 3: The new frontier in agricultural monitoring powered by remote sensing, Image by ki-kieh.
Geospatial technology stands to revolutionize the way smallholder farmers use their lands, and raise their productivity and profits while ensuring the continuity of our natural environments. To do so, we need to mobilize to rebuild an agricultural industry through regeneration. Based on improvement, innovation and a change of mindset. In supporting connectivity, translation to workable tooling for non-experts and integration into locally used communications channels, like WhatsApp, Space4Good aims to better enable a vital sector like agriculture and form collaborations with other industries to find suitable solutions for our planet and people.
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