Will Advanced Earth Observation Data Come to the Rescue When Climate Change Leads to Food Shortages?

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In the near future, we may witness a significant increase in food prices, and even food shortages. According to researchers, today’s system can reliably feed 3.4 billion people, and in 30 years the global population will reach 10 billion. No wonder that countries are increasingly focusing on technologies that can help solve this problem.

What seemed obvious until recently, i.e. providing all people with sufficient nutrition, nowadays proves to be a growing challenge. There are 7.5 billion people on Earth. It is estimated that around half of the Earth’s terrestrial area (around 51 million sq km) is cultivated. In principle, the planet could feed 10 billion people, but in practice it is not so simple. Currently, 3 billion people are struggling with the problem of malnutrition.

European information support

Many countries are already using available technologies, e.g. satellite imaging, to support food production. As part of Copernicus, the EU program for monitoring our planet, huge amounts of data flow into servers every day about what is happening in every corner of the Earth. This data is made available as part of the public Data and Information Access Services (DIAS) platforms. Individual users as well as research institutions or companies can access them via the Internet. Two of the five DIAS platforms are operated by the Polish company CloudFerro, which provides them with cloud computing technology.

“Satellite Earth observation data provide a better understanding of global changes, both natural and man-made. Forecasting models, analyses and various tools are created based on this data in order to improve decision-making processes in many market sectors. New technologies not only make our lives easier, but also help to optimize the use of natural resources and increase food production,” says Przemysław Mujta, Technical Sales Support Manager at CloudFerro. “Agriculture is a good example of the effective use of satellite data. Last year in Greece, analyses based on Copernicus data contributed to the reduction of water, chemical fertilizers and pesticides consumption by 19%, as well as to 10% increase in agricultural production.”

Satellite data enables ongoing monitoring of the situation on Earth, creating models to support agriculture, and managing the risk related to climate change. More and more companies and institutions take advantage of this data, also within the framework of the state administration, where satellite images are increasingly used e.g. to analyze soil moisture and identify areas likely to yield worse crops.

“Satellite maps can provide farmers with extensive information on the state of crops and arable land, helping to make forecasts, for example to identify crop hazards and estimate damage, thus optimizing the use of fertilizers and pesticides. This will enable sustainable, efficient and resource-saving agriculture,” explained two years ago Godela Roßner of DLR, the German Space Agency, for which CloudFerro has built a cloud that allows access to and analysis of satellite data.

Decreasing crop yields

According to a report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the impact of climate change on Earth is already significant today, and if nothing changes, the situation will get increasingly worse. Record heat waves in Europe last year affected many crops, e.g. wine production in France fell by 13%. Extensive floods in the midwestern United States significantly reduced corn and soybean yields. Drought has ravaged rice fields in Thailand and Indonesia, and fires have devoured sugar cane plantations and oilseed crops in India. All this causes food prices to rise, which is becoming a huge problem, especially for the inhabitants of the poorer regions of the world. For them, food may become a luxury good in the near future.

This is why individual countries and international organizations are taking various actions to meet the consumption needs of all people. Many of them are increasingly investing in technology. Special investment funds are even created that aim to create solutions that can help overcome the problem of malnutrition.

“Huge amounts of food are wasted in the world. It is estimated that 1.6 billion tons of food worth 1 trillion dollars is thrown away every year. The Boston Consulting Group predicts that by 2030 this number will increase by nearly half. We should make smarter investments to identify the causes of waste, which are different for each country. Poor infrastructure is a problem in developing countries, and we should focus on improving it. Developed countries have better infrastructure, but richer parts of the world are struggling with excessive consumerism. People buy too much and throw away what they do not consume. We must take firm steps to eliminate this phenomenon. The overarching goal should be what the UN talks about: feeding humanity and balancing food production,” explains Wojciech Stramski, manager of Deep Change Ventures, a fund investing in new technologies.

Monitoring resources

Satellite data is also commonly used overseas, and not just in the most developed countries. An example may be Panama, where people tend to eat rice with almost every meal. The country’s agriculture is largely based on rice production. To monitor and protect crops against extreme weather, Panamanian officials were trained to use satellite images to monitor crops and analyze the impact of natural disasters on rice fields.

“Satellite data helps farmers make the right decisions about their crops,” says Alberto Martinelli, president of the rice farmers association in Panama. “We try to ensure that all farmers know exactly what is happening to their crops, so that they can sow, plant and harvest crops at the optimal time,”he explains. Information from the satellites will also be used by Panama’s officials to plan, implement and verify the subsidy program for farmers.

It is estimated that right after World War II, one farmer in Germany was able to feed 10 people. Today, with the technological progress, this number has risen to over 140. However, this is still not enough.

“The climate is changing, and humanity is responsible for these changes. Increasingly difficult conditions force us to search for innovative solutions, because the expansion of arable land at the expense of forests would be counterproductive. One day there will be no more room for new arable land on Earth, so we need to effectively use what we already have,” – says Wojciech Stramski from Deep Change Venture. “One of the ways to optimize production and maximize the use of our planet’s resources is precision farming, based on information from satellites. But this alone is not enough. The next solution that we should implement is vertical agriculture, which is becoming more and more efficient. However, the most important thing is to change habits, and technology should strive to accelerate this change”, he clarifies.

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