Stanford researchers measure African farm yields using high-resolution satellites
Stanford researchers have developed a new way to estimate crop yields from space, using high-resolution photos snapped by a new wave of compact satellites.
The approach, detailed in the Feb. 13 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help estimate agricultural productivity and test intervention strategies in poor regions of the world where data are currently extremely scarce.
“Improving agricultural productivity is going to be one of the main ways to reduce hunger and improve livelihoods in poor parts of the world,” said study-coauthor Marshall Burke, an assistant professor of Earth system science at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. “But to improve agricultural productivity, we first have to measure it, and unfortunately this isn’t done on most farms around the world.”
Earth-observing satellites have been around for over three decades, but most of the imagery they capture has not been of high enough resolution to visualize the very small agricultural fields typical in developing countries. Recently, however, satellites have shrunk in both size and cost while simultaneously improving in resolution, and today there are several companies competing to launch into space refrigerator- and shoebox-sized satellites that take high-resolution images of Earth.
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Photo via Stanford University.