FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

Harvesting data from space to inform policy predictability and investments in Ukraine’s grain sector

©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

28/05/2024, Rome

In Ukraine, access to quality grain production estimates has worsened due to the ongoing war. In response, a three-day technical meeting at FAO on 11-13 March examined if remote-sensing technologies could help complement and strengthen its national data-gathering capacity.

A new perspective to monitor Ukraine’s grain production 

Ukraine’s grain and oilseed sector accounts for up to 30 percent of total agricultural output and it is one of the world’s leading exporters. Despite the war, its global export market share accounts for 9 percent of wheat, 14 percent of maize and 46 percent of sunflower oil. 

Constant monitoring and gathering of market data, including national area and yield forecasting is crucial to inform policy predictability and enable investments for the sector. Ensuring market transparency has become increasingly challenging as the war is hampering traditional data collection methods, especially in the field. Alternative approaches, such as remote-sensing technologies, and their potential to bridge the data gap, were explored at a recent technical meeting.

Remote sensing technologies for more accuracy in grain production data 

Remote-sensing technologies gather data by aerial imagery or observations and measurements from space. They measure the reflected or emitted radiance from the earth’s surface through time, which can be used to  map types, monitor crop development, assess crop conditions and forecast productivity.  As such  they can play a critical role in  supporting market transparency and monitoring of land use management.

“While these tools are not yet being used extensively at the state level in Ukraine, many local agribusinesses have advanced in applying remote-sensing technologies to inform agricultural decisions at farm level,” explained Vasyl Hovhera, Principal, Agribusiness Advisory of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). “Our clients, private sector companies and associations – especially those in the grain sector – already share data with NASA Harvest, NASA’s Global Food Security and Agriculture program. We hope that the information gathered so far has strong potential to help bolster national data accuracy for grain and oilseed production in Ukraine, the sector in which the EBRD is one of the most important investors.” 

Getting to work on the ground

The meeting was held as part of a joint FAO–EBRD project to review digital technologies in the Ukrainian grain sector which emphasized the significance of using remote sensing data in agriculture to enhance data reliability for proper market analysis, investment and policy decisions. Participants were technical and investment experts from FAO and the EBRD including from the State Statistics Service of Ukraine (SSSU), and the Universities of Maryland, Strasbourg and Monash, as contributors to NASA Harvest.  

“Achieving transparency and predictability in assessing production and export potential is a vital element of Ukraine’s European Union integration efforts. It is imperative to improve the quality, accuracy and reliability of our agricultural statistics in a sound manner as statistical information remains a main pillar for our agrarian policies,” said Taras Vysotskyi, First Deputy Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine who joined the meeting remotely.

Areas of discussion and learning included a review of current Ukrainian capacities and practices, identifying opportunities and challenges for the integration of remote-sensing technologies into crop production estimates at the national and sub-national levels, and agreement about the next steps, including greater collaboration with the private sector. 

“Official government estimates are key for market transparency,” said Inbal Becker-Reshef, Program Director, NASA Harvest. “We are excited to work with FAO, the EBRD, and SSSU to explore how satellite data can be integrated to support agricultural estimates of SSSU. Satellite data provide a huge potential to enhance agricultural estimates in particular when ground access is not possible.”

Next steps

The meeting allowed to craft a concrete plan, set deadlines, and pinpoint winter cereals, maize, and sunflower seed as key focus for further joint work. Reflecting on the meeting discussions, Wafaa El Khoury, Chief of FAO Investment Centre said “Making investment decisions at a time of uncertainty is already difficult. The discussion revealed that the discrepancies in Ukraine’s oilseed crop area estimation by remote sensing and traditional methods may exceed 1 million hectares. In this case, the value of underestimated crop production may reach USD 1 billion every year which is a very pricy mistake to make. FAO is working with its partners in the Ukrainian government to improve the existing methodologies based on rigorous science to enable better production estimates. This will enable more informed investment decisions. We hope that this approach will be replicated in other countries.”