Kenya Space Agency intensifies use of science to curb drought

A Cube in Space. Photo Credit

Groundbreaking Africa Regional Data Cube shows trends in drought over time, will be used to target interventions on environmental protection and food security

Kenya’s newly formed Space Agency will lead the country’s work with the groundbreaking Africa Regional Data Cube to mine almost two decades of satellite imagery for crucial insights on farming strategies as well as climate data.

A new partnership announced in Nairobi will see leaders from the Government of Kenya join forces with the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, the Committee on Earth Observation Satellite, and the Group on Earth Observations to translate satellite imagery into forecasts of growing conditions that could be used to significantly stabilize food production on Kenya’s farms.

Four other countries—Ghana, Tanzania, Senegal, and Sierra Leone—also are part of Data Cube initiative.

The data cube was developed by CEOS in partnership with  Amazon Web Services, office of the Deputy President, Republic of Kenya and Strathmore University in Kenya.

“Uncertainty is the enemy of agriculture and with the Data Cube we can take advantage of powerful new space technologies to provide better predictions regarding the crop choices and planting decisions most likely to produce a good harvest,” said Defence Cabinet Secretary Ambassador Raychelle Omamo.

“Droughts are fact of life in Kenya,” she added, “but we’re optimistic that new innovations in data gathering and analysis can provide a level of predictability that will empower Kenya’s farmer to be more productive and resilient, even as climate change adds new challenges.”

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Kenya has endured long dry spells and below-average rainfall in both 2018 and 2019, and food production suffered. The Data Cube effort will combine 17 years of data from satellites, which can now capture images sufficiently sharp to assess crop performance in farmers’ fields, with data from agriculture surveys to understand the intricacies of environmental and seasonal changes over time.

These insights will be filtered through powerful data analysis tools or algorithms to produce insights and guidance on variety of issues, like how different types of seeds can be expected to perform in different regions throughout the year.

“The ability to scan almost two decades’ worth of changes in Kenya’s lands will allow a whole new level of agriculture forecasting that can be used to train farmers while also providing a more powerful type of risk assessment that can be critical in securing affordable credit and crop insurance,” said Davis Adieno, Africa Regional Director at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.

“We’re excited to be working with our colleagues in Kenya to see this rapidly evolving world of data applied to improving the lives of smallholder farmers in Kenya– and the families across the country who depend on them for a steady supply of affordable, nutritious food.”

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Examples of data-led interventions that can improve food production and food security include: monitoring land degradation over time as a preventative measure, developing stronger early warning systems for drought and floods, detecting changes in vegetation over time, while balancing for seasonal variation, and mapping the movement of settlements that are displaced by arid conditions. All of this information can then be used to improve planning, assistance programmes and resource distribution to help protect vulnerable citizens.

In September 2018, President Kenyatta signed an Executive Order to establish the Kenya Space Agency. Ambassador Omamo formally inaugurated its board which includes Principal Secretaries of defense, national treasury, university education and research, environment and forestry and Information and Communications Technology.

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