CIAT turns to space technology for monitoring crop performance

CIAT turns to space technology for monitoring crop performance

In a not-so-distant future, rice and oil palm producers in Colombia will have access to realistic estimates of what their yields will be and the amount of greenhouse gases their fields emit in near real-time.

Artist impression of Sentinel 5p satellite. Photo by: Airbus

The estimates will come from an online platform that will run data based on algorithms generated in a three-year project involving CIAT and several Colombian and U.K.-based organizations. The platform will go by the name of Ecological Productivity Management Information System in Colombia, or “EcoProMIS”.

Funded by the U.K. Space Agency and led by Rothamsted in a public-private partnership with Agricompas Limited, the project aims to allow rice and oil palm growers in Colombia to have thriving livelihoods without harming the environment.

The project is a first for CIAT, as it will use space technology, i.e., satellites, to monitor how crops perform under different conditions.

Participants to the kick-off meeting on the EcoProMIS project, which was held in Bogota early this year. Photo by: Michael Selvaraj / CIAT

“With satellites, I can see what’s happening on a plot in the municipality of Santa Rosa Villavicencio without leaving my desk,” said Dr. Michael Gomez Selvaraj, a crop physiologist and country lead for CIAT’s work under the project.

Selvaraj and his team at the CIAT Phenomics Platform will also use drones and sensors under the project. These will measure soil moisture, wind speed, rain, relative humidity, and the soil’s pH level, among other conditions.

Rice performance monitoring using a drone. Photo by: Neil Palmer / CIAT

The project likewise involves gathering on-the-ground data. Fedearroz, Colombia’s national rice growers’ association, and Cenipalma, a research center that’s a subsidiary of the national federation for oil palm growers, Fedepalma, will engage farmers to do this.

The farmers, along with technical advisers, will conduct surveys on crop production and biodiversity and share the results via smartphones. They will likewise collect plant samples.

The purpose of the exercise is to enable farmers to develop skills on how to best manage crops and enhance their understanding of the impact of farming practices on productivity and the environment.

To measure greenhouse gas emissions in real time, CIAT will install flux towers on the trial sites.

All the data generated through various means will feed into a model that can forecast, for instance, the yield based on the quantity of fertilizer and water used.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a priority for Colombia. The country has pledged to cut these emissions — the bulk of which come from agriculture, forestry, and other land uses — by 20 percent by 2030.

Although EcoProMIS will focus on rice and oil palm, the Web platform could also be used for other crops, such as sugar cane, cacao, and cassava.

Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of UK Space Agency said: “This exciting project in Colombia will help farmers to improve their land management to diversify the country’s economy and stabilize food supplies. Innovations from space like Rothamsted Research’s EcoProMis have the ability to expand skills and technology at home whilst bringing benefits abroad, I’m delighted to see this project progressing.”

Agricultural data analytics firm Agricompas will operate EcoProMIS and develop knowledge services for partners and provide commercial services to other stakeholders to secure sustainable income for platform maintenance.

Partners are growers, research institutes and trade associations that share crop production data and expertise in return for free platform services. This will enable them to produce better crops, research and extension services.

For each crop, Agricompas will launch a series of commercial decision support services to target challenges such a climate change, insurance, pollution and food security. First services will be; insurance for rice and oil palm; finance for rice production; and sustainability for palm production.

“Our objective is to support sustainable agriculture by improving crop productivity and profitability while reducing environmental impact and improving socio-economic conditions of stakeholders,” said Roelof Kramer, Agricompas CEO.

International non-profit organization, Solidaridad, will also create a protocol for collecting data to determine the socio-economic impact of the project on smallholder farmers.


Additional information:

The “Ecological Productivity Management Information System in Colombia (Colombian EcoProMIS)” project is funded by the U.K. Space Agency International Partnership Programme. The program aims to harness U.K. space expertise in addressing challenges worldwide, especially in low-income countries.

The EcoProMIS project will use Earth Observation satellites, together with environmental and agricultural data, to determine the effects of farming and ecological management practices on biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, and yields.

Rothamsted Research and Agricompas lead the project. Other U.K.-based project partners include Pixalytics, and Elastacloud. Colombian project partners include Cenipalma, Fedearroz, and Solidaridad.