Technologies and innovations boost national capacity for data collection of cereal production in the Syrian Arab Republic

Technologies and innovations boost national capacity for data collection of cereal production in the Syrian Arab Republic

03/10/2018

The Syrian Arab Republic featured a first-ever assessment of wheat and barley yields, the nation’s two most important principal cereal crops, using advanced information and communication technologies. The adoption of innovative technologies offers ministries, statistical institutions and decision makers the prospect of more accurate and cost-effective data collection.

The assessment was carried out by the General Organization for Remote Sensing and the Natural Agricultural Policy Center, with technical support provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) through an agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform. The resulting estimate of wheat and barley crop yields during the 2017–2018 agricultural season were based on analysis of high-resolution images and maps across all Syrian governorates.

“Prior to the crisis, the Syrian Arab Republic was highly productive in growing wheat and barley crops – the main staple foods in the country. Improving our knowledge of the growing situation in real time will help decision makers understand the likely yield situation and any actions needed to be taken in good time,” said Mike Robson, FAO Representative in the Syrian Arab Republic. “Receiving more precise and comprehensive data earlier could help us provide better technical support to farmers on future public procurement and on levels of price support,” he added.

The first stage of the assessment was to identify high-resolution satellite imagery to cover farmers’ agricultural lands, including those belonging to smallholders. From 1 to 6 April 2018, partners agreed on the use of the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2A Satellite – a land monitoring two-satellite constellation – across a range of different resolutions and spectral bands. The assessment classified fields, differentiated between images of areas cultivated with wheat and barley, zoned targeted fields based on each governorate size and complied the crop calendar.

Accurate data collection

Remote sensing, integrated within a Geographic Information System, is comprehensive and time and cost effective. In the Syrian Arab Republic, remote sensing was used for the first time ever to assess the likely yield situation and analyze contributory factors such as planting times, weather patterns and irrigation availability. Thanks to FAO’s technical assistance and consultation on the use of new technologies and innovations, national capacities to undertake assessments has been significantly boosted.

The collection of primary data, and selection and categorization of  areas mapped by remote sensing provided national experts’ the opportunity to expand their knowledge by complementing information received from the ground with satellite imagery across targeted governorates. This allowed for accurate information on expected wheat and barley yields in the Syrian Arab Republic, several weeks before harvest.

The mapping of 662 295 ha of wheat cultivated areas shows a predicted production of around 1.3 million tonnes. This subsequently reduced due to crop damage from unseasonably late heavy rainfall. For barley, the recorded cultivated area was 1 036 906 ha, with an expected low yield of just over 400 000 tonnes due to drought conditions, particularly in the eastern and southern regions of the country.

National capacity development in practice

Data on in-season crop development and agro-meteorology can contribute to early warnings of drought and support calls to action for the protection of farmers and rural families’ main livelihoods and source of income, as well as ensuring Syrians’ sustainable access to nutritious food following harvests.

FAO and its partners provided national experts working in the agriculture sector a first-ever opportunity to gain hands-on experience on the use of advanced remote-sensing technologies. “The crisis in Syria has added pressure on national experts to obtain information needed for planning and decision making, in support of national food security,” stated Mike Robson. “In a difficult context, this experience shows the power of using the latest technologies to gather and analyse data across wide areas,” he added.