EROS in Action – Landsat Data Offers Relief to West African Farmers

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Detailed Description

Data products from the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center have long informed the delivery of food aid through a partnership with the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET). New research explores the use of satellite data to improve index insurance, an affordable crop insurance product that aims to help farmers in developing countries make investments to improve crop yields without risking financial ruin.


Date Taken:

Length: 00:03:20

Location Taken: US

Video Credits

Chris Funk, University of California-Santa Barbara/USGS EROS; Sari Lucille Blakeley, University of California-Santa Barbara


Satellite data can help feed those in
need in the developing world,

but could it also encourage farmers to
produce more food?

US Geological Survey Researchers at the
Earth Resources Observation and Science
Center think the answer is yes.

Data from the Famine Early Warning
Systems Network is already critical
to food security in West Africa,

according to US Geological Survey
climatologist Chris Funk.

West Africa is this huge area, with
millions and millions of these really
poor, small-holder farmers

on these two and a half acre plots of land

and in the last 20 years, 30 years, we
just haven’t seen an increase in yields.

And in the meantime, the population has
doubled and is still going up very,
very quickly.

Fertility and yields are low in part
because most West Africans

can’t afford to buy drought-resistant
seeds or fertilizers.

If they do and crops fail, farmers could
be strapped with serious debt,

because crop insurance is not available
to cover their losses.

These households are trapped in
this cycle of poverty,

and it’s been impossible for most
of them to break out of that.

A new product called index insurance
could help change that.

Instead of paying for actual crop damage,
index insurance pays based on weather

If the weather is poor, farmers get a
payout. This makes insurance more

and could encourage more production.

With index insurance, it both gives them
a safety net in a bad year,

but then the safety to try and innovate
and try to break this cycle.

In order to catch on, index insurance
needs to be reliable.

Funk recently co-authored a paper that
looks at how FEWS NET’s freely-available

could potentially be folded into other
data streams to improve the reliability
of index insurance.

Lead author Sari Lucille Blakeley of the
University of California-Santa Barbara

says adding data sources can improve
payouts for farmers.

When a farmer can trust in a product,
that it’s going to pay out in the bad
years instead of having to double guess
whether it’s going to pay out or not,

they can then have confidence to actually
purchase the drought-resistant seeds
that will improve their productivity.

In the future, Funk hopes to see
remotely-sensed data used to guide
decisions on the ground.

One of the things that I’m getting really
interested in the use of combinations
of remote sensing and forecasts

to guide farmer decision making.

We know that the earth is going to be
getting warmer and that'll have negative
impacts on crops

We know that there's going to be dry
seasons and wet seasons

but we're starting to be able to use things
like cell phones to push information out
to the farmers

And so we might be able to see a nearby
future where we see combinations of things
like index insurance

and agricultural advisories that are
telling small holder farmers how to
prepare for a dry season or

giving them information so that they can
really double-down on their investments

and make bigger profits in good years
and that could be years away,
not decades.