Satellite Imagery Aids in Prediction and Prevention of Food Crises

Commercial satellite imaging has penetrated the earth’s layers and made the concept of location-based services popular across industries. Now the technology which has empowered so much commercial progress is being called on to address some of the world’s most significant humanitarian crises.

NASA is leading the way. One of NASA’s goals for 2017 includes the purchase of Earth Science data from small and medium satellite agencies. It aims to support the development and use of commercial small satellites and intends to use the data for disaster management, food security, weather forecasting and more.

Aspiring startups hoping to establish their presence in the commercial satellite imaging industry are also focusing on global problems. One such initiative is being undertaken by Descartes Labs; the company is intent on helping to solve the looming food security crisis.

According to the World Bank, the world is about to lose 25% of its crop yields to climate change. Even with enhanced food production methods designed to meet the demands of food security, there will still not be enough in impacted areas. But what if we could predict shortages around the world with enough lead time to manage a life-saving response?

The startup, which works extensively with image recognition technology, claims to produce food supply forecasts that surpass even government and commercial sources. Descartes Labs captures satellite images and, with the help of deep machine learning, makes accurate predictions of food production and availability that are more granular, frequent and precise than those of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Will more U.S. families go hungry?

The U.S., one of the world’s largest food producers, was considered unlikely to face a food shortage, but recent events have resulted in the threat of an upcoming crisis: Poor weather conditions brought about a reduction in crop yields and led to a rise in food prices. Parts of the country were hit by a drought that led to reduced cattle herds in 2013. There was a significant price increase on common food staples along with a reduction of availability that directly impacted some U.S. families. Now, a recent drought in California threatens to become a nationwide issue.

Food supply predictions and forecasts such as those produced by satellite imaging companies could go a long way in mitigating the effects of a food shortage, assuming proper responsive measures are taken. Satellite imaging solutions, along with the integration of remote sensing technologies and high-resolution cameras, could mean a whole new scenario for food shortage prediction. Images captured by satellites could aid in crop assessment, map irrigated landscape, give a precise soil and environmental analysis, and predict crop yields. By careful assessment of the local food environments, and changes in land use and land cover, satellite imaging can help researchers develop plans for sustaining our food resources. Proper planning, better management of existing agricultural lands, and improved production practices can lead to a secure food supply at a global, as well as local, scale.

Geospatial information systems and remote sensing technologies, when used in sync with satellite imaging, are capable of precise food production forecasts. Due to these advanced applications of GIS and remote sensing technologies in the immediate future, the market for satellite images is expected to witness a huge boost in size. Expert analysts at Allied Market Research have predicted that the commercial satellite imaging market is expected to bring in $5,275 million by 2022. 


Published Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

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