REDD+ Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation

Forest and land-use data to go Hand-in-Hand for sustainable development

FAO integrates SEPAL and the Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform connecting data and analytical power for better decision- and policy-making


The Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform (HiH GP) is a new and unparalleled source of accessible and transparent geospatial data from across the sectors of agriculture, fisheries and forestry. The platform includes over one million geospatial layers, bringing together geographic information and statistical data on sectors linked to food and agriculture - food security, crops, soil, land, water, climate, fisheries, livestock and forestry. The platform was recently launched by Director General Qu Dongyu of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and modernizes the organization’s data accessibility and interactivity.

In its latest release, the HiH platform will integrate customizable satellite imagery data for forest and land monitoring from SEPAL - FAO's System for Earth Observation Data Access, Processing and Analysis for Land Monitoring. 

SEPAL is a big-data platform for forest and land monitoring that was created by FAO to respond to the urgent need at the national level for innovative systems that enable accurate, efficient, and cost-effective monitoring and reporting of forest and land cover. Completely open-source and easy to use, SEPAL enables its 7,000 users to swiftly access and analyse satellite images – something which traditionally required specialized training, software and computer processing power.

SEPAL will strengthen the data visualization and analytical possibilities within the HiH GP. For any area of interest on the planet’s surface and for any time period of interest, HiH GP users can create customized, best-pixel, Landsat or Sentinel image composites, on-the-fly. Satellite imagery from 40 years ago can be viewed alongside the latest acquisitions to provide a most accurate understanding of land cover changes. This can be combined with the data already available in HiH such as for water, climate, and crops. With the integration of SEPAL, users can add customized satellite imagery information to any analysis undertaken in HiH GP.

The integration of HiH GP and SEPAL will allow users to access, compare and cross-analyse satellite data, paving the way for improved strategies to meet the SDGs - for example for more ambitious climate change mitigation plans and data-driven land-use policies.

A SEPAL training has already been provided to ESS’s Geospatial Data Lab who work to apply the HiH Geospatial Platform in the context of the overall Hand-In-Hand initiative.

The integration occurred as part of FAO's Hand-in-Hand initiative - an evidence-based, country-led and country-owned initiative aimed at accelerating agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development to eradicate poverty (SDG1) and end hunger and all forms of malnutrition (SDG2), including through the use of the most sophisticated tools available such as advanced geospatial modeling and analytics.

“Earth observation is an efficient technique for agricultural information acquisition, from field, region, country, continent, to the whole globe. The integration with SEPAL will improve the information acquisition and update capacity from timely remote sensing image processing in HiH Geospatial Platform, said Zhongxin Chen, Senior Information Technology Officer and Coordinator of the Hand-In-Hand Geospatial platform. “Meanwhile, it will enable more extensive and intensive integration with other FAO domain knowledge and models using advanced technologies such as data assimilation, machine learning, and Geo-AI. The integration is the important first step, and there is more work to do to support Hand-in-Hand Initiative, digital transformation.”


More about HiH

FAO’s Hand-in-Hand (HiH) initiative brings together countries that have the highest rates of poverty and hunger with developed countries. It focuses on areas with high agricultural potential at subnational level. Matchmaking can imply attracting new donors or private sector investments, as well as identifying investment gaps to work with existing donors or multilateral and bilateral agencies.

The HiH Geospatial Platform can be used by anyone and its application will in turn help data-driven and evidence-based decision-making in food and agriculture.

"The Geospatial Platform serves as a digital public good to create interactive data maps, analyze trends and identify real-time gaps and opportunities," said FAO Director-General, Qu Dongyu

The data has been sourced from FAO and other leading public data providers across the UN and NGOs, academia, private sector and space agencies. It also incorporates FAOSTAT data on food and agriculture for FAO's 194 member countries plus 51 territories, from 1961 to the most recent year available.


SEPAL - Powering innovation and application in the use of satellite imagery for natural resource management 

Accurate information is critical for natural resources to be managed sustainably. Developed by FAO, the SEPAL platform helps countries monitor and report on forests and land use. SEPAL offers users access to the latest satellite data in one place, an easy-to-use interface available in three languages (English, French, and Spanish), and powerful analysis, harnessing cloud-based supercomputers.

SEPAL users can process and analyze satellite imagery from Planet, Landsat, Sentinel and ALOS, taking advantage of the high temporal and spatial resolution of the Planet imagery, the historical archive of Landsat imagery, the frequency of the Sentinel-2 imagery and of the cloud-penetrating abilities of Sentinel-1 and ALOS.

SEPAL is empowering 7000 users, including government agencies, NGOs, private companies and research in over 180 countries around the world to gain a better understanding of - and therefore to better plan and manage - land cover change using the satellite data, processing capacity and analytical possibilities offered in SEPAL.

To access the SEPAL satellite image composite/mosaic functionality within HiH GP:

  1. Select or create an Area of Interest (AOI)
  2. Click on ‘Explore Data’
  3. Click on ‘Tools’
  4. Click on ‘SEPAL’ and ‘Add to the Map’
  5. A SEPAL theme will appear in the map layers
  6. Click on the AOI in the map
  7. Click on the SEPAL label in the pop-up box
  8. You will be presented with options to create an optical or radar mosaic/composite
  9. Select the AOI from the dropdown menu
  10. Select the date (or date range) for which you want to make an image
  11. Select the sources of imagery (Landsat or Sentinel-2 for Optical, Sentinel-1 for radar)
  12. Select composite options (or just take the default)
  13. Select colour bands (or just take the default)
  14. Click ‘GO’
  15. Enjoy!


Moving forward

This initial integration with SEPAL is just the first step. Over the coming months, the number of SEPAL processing algorithms available via the HiH Geospatial Platform will increase including the most recent SEPAL image classification functions, fragmentation analysis, biomass tools and more. The stronger ties between the platforms will allow users to add customized and more complex remote sensing-based image analyses to the already strong analytic capability of the HiH GP, combining the world's best agricultural statistics and imagery analysis in a single interface. Interested in learning more about SEPAL? Join the SEPAL learning community at


Framework for Ecosystem Restoration Monitoring (FERM)

Also on the horizon is the Framework for Ecosystem Restoration Monitoring (FERM) platform built on Hand-In-Hand Geospatial Architecture, and developed collaboratively by the Forestry, Land and Water, and Information Technology Divisions in support to the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The FERM platform will be launched on World Environment Day (June 5th), the official launch date for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.


For information, please contact:

Erik Lindquist

FAO Forestry Officer

[email protected]


Karl Morteo

FAO Information Technology Officer

[email protected]




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