Female asian farmer working in a wet rice field

Rural development: Southeast Asia: Satellite data for rice cultivation

Use of digital technology for rice production facilitates comprehensive observation and crop yield forecasting, and that includes possible harvest losses.

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Southeast Asia: Satellite data for rice cultivation

Satellites are being used to monitor more than 15 million hectares of rice-cultivated land in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and India for reliable harvest forecasting. Thus, authorities can take swift action in the event of imminent crop losses and assist affected rice farmers.

Rice is one of the most important basic foods on earth. It is the staple food of more than three and a half billion people worldwide. Most rice is produced in Asia, where some 90 per cent of the world's rice is grown on 140 million hectares of land – an area the size of South Africa. Rice is thus the main source of income for farmers in Asia. However, the entire region struggles with extreme weather conditions. Floods, typhoons and periods of drought are everyday occurrences that repeatedly wipe out entire harvests.

Satellite above earth, scanning surface

© ESA/ATG medialab

In order to better forecast harvests, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, SwissRe, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), sarmap SA and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) collaborate in a rice crop monitoring initiative. Since 2013, this partnership between public and private organisations has helped rice farmers and governments in Southeast Asia and India to undertake timely countermeasures when faced with imminent harvest losses.

Accurate forecasts: How is the rice harvest developing?

'RIICE' – which stands for Remote sensing-based Information and Insurance for Crops in Emerging Economies – collected detailed information from more than 15 million hectares of land under rice cultivation in Philippines, Cambodia, India, Thailand and Viet Nam. The data is generated by so-called SAR satellites that use electromagnetic waves to scan the earth's surface. Powerful enough to penetrate through dense cloud, this technology makes it possible to monitor rice fields during the monsoon period too – which is the main rice-growing period.

Through this collaborative initiative, more than 300 staff members from government institutions and agricultural research institutes were trained to analyse the satellite data. The information they gain tells them where and how much rice is being grown in the current season, how the seed is developing and whether the fields suffer from flooding or draught conditions. Long before harvesting actually takes place, experts can use the satellite data to create simulations that predict the anticipated harvest yield – with approximately 90% accuracy. The goal of providing national agencies with information to support their planning has been successfully achieved.

Female asian farmer with sheafs of rice

Swift assistance for rice farmers in the event of losses

Thanks to real-time monitoring and the attendant harvest forecasts, the authorities are able to take steps early on to counter imminent harvest losses. Long before the harvest fails – because of storm-damaged seedlings, for example – support can be rolled out. As was the case in November 2015 in the Indian federal state of Tamil Nadu when weeks of heavy rain flooded entire regions. More than 300 people lost their lives in the deluge which wiped out all the seeds and thus the livelihoods of some 400 rice farmers. With the help of satellite data, the state authorities were able to assess the extent of the damage only a few days after the rains started, enabling them to provide the rice farmers with 50 tonnes of rice seed and 30,000 seedlings for them to resume cultivation immediately once the rain stopped.

SAR data are also important for insurance against crop losses. GIZ and its partners have developed a procedure that allows them to use satellite information to make insurance programmes more efficient and compensation more transparent. In November 2016, for example, the government of the Indian federal state of Tamil Nadu introduced the RIICE technology into its crop insurance scheme. Tamil Nadu experienced the worst draught in over 140 years during the harvest of 2016/2017. Farmers were affected in both irrigated and rain-fed areas from sowing or transplanting new crops, while the already sown crop failed to germinate. RIICE successfully supplied necessary information on cropping area lost due to drought in a timely manner, enabling insurers to pay out claims for prevented or failed sowing to about 22,500 affected farmers timely after the calamity.


Status: July 2020

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