In 2017, NASA, in partnership with the University of Maryland, established its official agriculture and food security program known as Harvest. Using resources like Earth observation (EO) data, artificial intelligence and the knowledge of experts worldwide, Harvest works to enable informed agricultural decision-making in the U.S. and around the world, all while doing so in a “cost-effective and transparent” manner. As part of this broader Harvest framework, however, there is also Harvest Africa— the more targeted initiative working to advance agriculture and food security in Africa specifically.
Harvest Africa’s Objectives
The program also works to advocate for the wider use and implementation of these advanced agricultural tools by both “public and private organizations” in an effort to “benefit food security, agriculture and human and environmental resiliency,” per Harvest’s mission statement
With an emphasis on Eastern and Southern Africa— two regions in which the World Bank projects an estimated 66.4 million people will experience food-related crises in July 2022. Harvest Africa intends to find innovative, partnership-driven solutions to address Africa’s most difficult food and agricultural issues.
Using data gathered from advanced satellite and machine technology, the program works to identify the root causes of problems like crop failure or production shortfall in Africa, all in an effort to get out in front of those problems early.
Several crucial objectives of Harvest Africa, according to its website, include:
- Using “world-class technical expertise,” artificial intelligence and “EO-based data and tools” in order to advance agricultural land use, sustainability and productivity.
- Promoting the implementation and use of satellite-based data and technology for crucial agricultural monitoring and assessment.
- Working with agencies and organizations on both the national and local levels in developing and implementing these advanced agricultural tools.
- Making this agricultural data as widely available to the public as possible in order to “promote the operational uptake and sustainability of these new methods.”
The Impact So Far
Harvest Africa is currently carrying out numerous projects; many of which are seeing extremely promising results. In Kenya, for example, an estimated 3.5 million people in the country’s Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) region are currently facing acute food insecurity. Harvest is running a program that is playing a massive role in helping government officials and local farmers diagnose and find solutions to widespread crop failure.
By using satellite data to track elements such as rainfall, soil moisture and land use, NASA teams funded by Harvest and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are helping to make more accurate and detailed assessments to track where crops are growing, according to NASA Applied Sciences.
As described on NASA’s website detailing the program, “Agriculture officials in Kenya now have help pinpointing exactly where farms are thriving or struggling. They’re using views from above provided by NASA satellites to help direct support where it is needed most,” NASA Applied Sciences reports.
Having been “adapted and adopted for full operational use by national ministries in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda,” and “currently in development for use in Mali and Rwanda,” the Crop Monitor project is an exciting possibility for other African countries.
A Fighting Chance
As threats to African crop production prove more and more numerous— such as increased drought, frequent flooding and growing pest infestation — the need for innovative solutions and increased cooperation is higher than ever.
However, with the work of Harvest Africa, African countries and their farmers have a real chance of getting ahead of such disasters; a chance which leads to the potential for greater crop success and, as a result, increased food security.
With the help of these early warning systems, Earth observation data, artificial intelligence and some of the world’s brightest minds, Africa is becoming better equipped than ever before to thrive in the face of crisis.
– Riley Wooldridge