Participants from six Countries of Africa are taking part in consultation workshops jointly organised by Digital Earth Africa (DE Africa), ASARECA and CCARDESA, as part of the “Information for Agriculture, Food and Water Security Project" (IAFWS), funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
Agriculture in Africa is mainly rainfed and this results in low productivity and food insecurity (Gassner et al. 2019). Food insecurity is further exacerbated by a changing climate with increasing temperature, diminishing annual rainfall, and worsening extreme events such as drought and floods (Nhamo et al. 2019). Earth observation is increasingly being identified as an essential enabler in addressing food insecurity, both in Africa and the world over (Karthikeyan et al. 2020).
To support more effective and sustainable use of water resources for food security, stakeholders require: (i) awareness of existing Earth observation information; (ii) timely, easy, and free access to targeted tailored Earth observation information; (iii) enhanced capabilities and capacities throughout the information supply system chain, from farmers to policymakers on how to use Earth observation information, products, and services to support uptake of potential solutions. It is against this background that a one year project “Information for Agriculture, Food an Water Security” has been developed and is being implemented by Geoscience Australia in partnership with DE Africa, ASARECA and CCARDESA.
The project is funded by the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) with funds from the Australian government targeting six African countries including Botswana and Rwanda. The project will strengthen capacities of CCARDESA and ASARECA partner organisations in the competencies required for successful use of Earth observation tools and services offered by DE Africa to support Africa’s agricultural sector in Africa.
Consultations, including those facilitated in both Rwanda and Botswana, are being held with relevant African agricultural agencies to identify priority information services from the DE Africa platform to support Africa’s agricultural sector and create a strategy to develop and deliver these services.
Workshops in Botswana saw 40 participants from the southern Africa (Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, Eswatini and Zimbabwe) from the academia, public institutions, NGOs, Private Sector and farmers organisations that are users and beneficiaries of Earth observation data, information, and products in the agriculture sector discuss opportunities and challenges hindering the use of Earth observation datasets for food security on the Continent.
In Rwanda, 32 participants from the Government, Academia, NGOs, Farmers Organizations and the Private Sector gathered. The Director General of Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) congratulated both DE Africa, Geoscience Australia and ASARECA on the great initiative through the funding of ACIAR. He highlighted the alarming effects of climate change and the need for accurate information for evidence-based decision making.
He emphasised on the importance of smart agriculture to feed the exponentially growing population of Rwanda and the whole continent in general. Not only the increase in food productivity would be the main focus but also the reduction of adverse environmental impacts should be considered. He spoke about the need to overcome the “4 Cs”= Covid, Climate, Crisis and Cost which will require the diversification of food production means to adapt to/cope with climate change. Moreover, the outbreak of pests affects the production and food security on the continent. There is the need for more precise prediction tools integrating the population growth in Rwanda and on the continent.
What are the challenges?
Among the challenges identified at the workshops is the insufficient awareness about Earth observation data providers, lack of expertise, weak IT infrastructure, insufficient experts, interoperability of platforms as key gaps to the use of Earth observation for food security in the country and involvement of stakeholders at all stages of the product development. DE Africa is well placed to address these challenges through its analysis-ready datasets which are freely accessible, cover the whole continent, regularly updated, high interoperability and related capacity and support.
Outcomes of consultations so far
The outcome of the group discussion emphasised on the key role of Earth observation in the precision agriculture sector and the need for an integrated approach to mainstream Earth observation on the continent. Participants called upon regular awareness raising and capacity building on the use of Earth observation tools, mobilisation and sharing of resources to support data acquisition and IT infrastructure. Inclusion of women and youth in Science, Technology, and Environment Management [STEM] and farmers associations would ensure the accurate development and the uptake of the newly developed technologies and therefore contribute to the achievement of global, regional and national initiatives.
In addition, key recommendations for implementation from initial consultations include:
- Adapt the project to local realities with a focus on the farmers needs.
- Build on existing initiatives and close collaborations with the identified partners with RAB as focal point.
- Continue integrating the Earth observation and field expertises from both DE Africa, CCARDESA, RAB and ASARECA for evidence-based agricultural planning for food security in Rwanda and Africa in general.
- Increase the awareness on DE Africa Earth observation tools and services and need to include all the identified stakeholders at all steps of products/service development-from design, validation and dissemination.
- Prioritise capacity building for all users to understand their needs, data analysis and dissemination of the result.