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Science for a Hungry World: The View from Space, Pt. 2
For other episodes in the "Science for a Hungry World" series, click here.
Every day, NASA collects information vital to food production all over the world. These kinds of data can help make the difference for some people between being able to buy food and going hungry. These data help relief agencies know where food will be needed most. And they can make the difference between profits and losses for farmers and even entire food production systems. This information is a valuable asset. NASA’s mission: to give it away for free.
By applying our science, and applying it in a way that’s transparent and objective, and open to everybody, it’s a great role for NASA. We want everyone to understand and have a level playing field of what the issues are with supply and demand and then everyone makes better decisions and life is better for us.
We can't monitor from the ground everything that is going on which includes vegetation, rainfall, sea surface temperatures. Basically the entire biosphere of the entire planet. So we process the data -- we produce specific products that they want, customize them to their needs, and we provide them with the capability to make sure the data can be used, so that when they make the assessments they are using it know that the data has actually been scientifically proven to be valid.
After NASA collects this massive amount of data, it takes a strong partnership of other agencies and institutions to share the data and then help turn the information into action. NASA also works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several major universities to monitor the world’s food production, in a program called the Global Agriculture Monitoring Partnership.
It’s a system where we use satellite data from the NASA MODIS satellite -- instrument aboard the Earth Observing satellites. It’s a moderate resolution sensing system -- the bands are selected for agricultural monitoring.
What you’re trying to understand is what are going to be the supply and demand for food and to locate where those places are. So both for food security issues for food aid and also for market intelligence.
We release our information to the public, our crop estimates to the public so that everyone as that data and so that farmers can get a fair price. Well ultimately we’d like to see crop production increase for every country to that all countries are food secure.
But for now, famine remains a very real possibility for many parts of the world.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network uses a lot of satellite remote sensing in its analysis but it really focuses on the conditions on the ground: the social, the political and the economic conditions and uses remote sensing as a critical piece of information about production of agricultural products but it’s really fascinating because it’s very much one of those organizations that brings, that brings the social side and the biophysical side together in the same analysis.
We are much more able to be very specific about the conditions of food insecurity in some very difficult places to monitor. It’s very particularly evident in countries where for a variety of reasons access to the ground is limited. They may have conflict there may be bandits there may be terrorism. In those places satellite imagery still remains one of our primary tools and one of our most important tools for measuring food availability and even food access.
Most people don’t know that NASA satellites provide so much data about how we grow food on this planet, and that with these data, teams of researchers work to increase crop yields, ease famine, and keep the global agricultural system functioning. But NASA and its many partners will keep providing this agricultural data, so that governments, agencies, farmers, and food producers, can have the information to make the best choices to feed the world's people.
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