Sustainable Development Goals

FAO, Digital Earth Africa and Frontier SI’s collaboration to enhance the use of Earth observations in Africa

Crop type map produced using Sentinel-2 data for the Maseru District (Lesotho), for the reporting year 2017 (Source: Jupyter Notebooks, modified to comply with UN Geospatial, 2022)

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Digital Earth Africa and Frontier SI have initiated a new collaboration to help African countries use Earth observations to produce land cover and crop statistics. The outcomes of this collaboration are expected to help guide food security policy making and thus better support countries to achieve Zero Hunger.

Through this partnership FAO aims to upscale existing work in land cover and crop statistics using Earth observations, by taking advantage of the Digital Earth Africa’s tools, services and experience to expand the implementation into a larger number of countries across Africa. The ultimate objective is for the new system to be used by National Statistics Offices across Africa and by FAO’s Hand in Hand Initiative.

“Through our collaboration, we aim to create a prototype for a national system for land cover mapping which will support the generation of land cover statistics using the existing algorithms developed by FAO with the EOSTAT project”, said Lorenzo de Simone, FAO’s Geospatial Technical Adviser. “The expansion of land cover mapping capabilities through Digital Earth Africa will also support national reporting on a number of Sustainable Development Goal indicators”, he added.

In a second phase, partners will create a prototype for a national system for crop type and yield mapping to support the generation of crop acreage and yield statistics. The plan is also to build the capacity of local and regional partners in using the new systems as well as the Digital Earth Africa’s tools and services.

Using Earth observations to help countries achieve the SDGs

Building on the foundations already set up by Digital Earth Africa with the Cropland Extent Map service, the identification of the location of cropped areas, crop type, crop extent and crop condition, will help users understand the current state of agriculture, predict the impact of crop supply on food security in Africa, and ultimately help decision makers to take better informed decisions.

This new collaboration will also support African countries in the monitoring of SDG indicators under FAO custodianship, which can be measured directly or indirectly using Earth observations data. For example, Jupyter Notebooks will be made available in the Digital Earth Africa’s sandbox for the automatic computation of SDG indicators 15.4.2 (Mountain Green Cover Index) and 15.1.1 (Forest area) from existing national land cover maps or from global products (e.g. ESA CCI, Copernicus LC100, WorldCover). 

“Though not a panacea for solving all the challenges related to the immense SDG data needs, Earth observation data can significantly contribute both directly and indirectly to improving the availability, quality, and consistency of SDG indicators,” Pietro Gennari, FAO’s Chief Statistician, stated.

About the collaboration

Digital Earth Africa’s platform and services enable African governments, industry and decision makers to track changes across the continent using Earth observations. This provides valuable insights for better decision making across many areas, including flooding, drought, soil and coastal erosion, agriculture, forest cover, land use and land cover change, water availability and quality, and changes to human settlements.

FrontierSI, a not-for-profit company, was established following 16 years of operations as the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information. They have extensive expertise in spatial mapping, infrastructures, positioning, geodesy, analytics and standards.  

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