Agriculture and disaster risk, space as an alternative?

Space technology has been of great importance for the technological revolutions that humanity has reached. With the technological developments that came with the arrival of the human being to the moon, we have been able to have GPS, or technologies to access drinking water. It has also been found that satellite images allow us to obtain information on borders, mobility or infrastructure projects, which helps to build a society with more information and more accurate knowledge of reality.

Thus, with the great scientific and technological growth of the sector, it has also reached agriculture and aquaculture. In this way, technology goes beyond outer space, allowing greater stability and lower cost in the new ways of crop inspection and study of the land.

With respect to agriculture, we find that outer space brings great change to the sector and its communities. This is because, beyond having a satellite in orbit, organizations and companies have been able to interpret the data they obtain to optimize their processes in agriculture, giving greater precision and allowing them to know the situation of the land, composition, and even the need to use certain seeds or fertilizers. In this way, farmers are maximizing land yields, increasing productivity, and reducing environmental impact by knowing which herbicides to use with greater precision.

With the benefits this industry has brought to agricultural productivity and food security in general, companies have emerged to provide these land monitoring and knowledge services. One such company, Pixxel Space of India, provides high-resolution imagery and claims that, through this, crop health can be monitored, variations can be detected, and yields can be improved. The use of these satellite images has grown so much that the company has secured $33 million in funding.

Another company providing geospatial information services is SpaceWill, located in Beijing, China. Through their image processing and analysis, they have been able to provide coordinates and references for a better understanding of land use, optimizing it and helping to effectively protect crops.

Advantages in agriculture

Even though we are aware of the benefits that the space sector has brought, it can still be difficult to make the leap towards the use of satellite images and data processing. However, it is important to mention that, digging a little deeper, we find that they can really help to optimize processes. Pixxel explains the advantages in agriculture, stating that the data captured by its satellite has the potential to replace manual inspection, monitoring spatio-temporal variations. Also, hand in hand with ground infrastructure, they can study the soil and detect pests or infections through very high quality images.

Related to this, in Southeast Asia we find Geo-Insights from ST Engineering, a Singaporean company. It uses remote sensing data to generate information for the agricultural industry. Thus, it helps sustainability in the processes by providing precision and crop health monitoring, in addition to many other services. Ángela Díaz shares some of this, mentioning that there is also monitoring in the aquaculture sector:

“The company also has solutions to increase maritime safety. We know that fish production in Latin America is one of the highest in the world, and it is important to ensure the safety of the food supply. This can be done by detecting suspicious vessels to reduce illegal activities and ensure the integrity of the area.”

With respect to fertilizer use, the misuse of fertilizers has been identified as a factor that detracts from the productivity of land use. According to World Bank data, although Colombia has greatly reduced the amount of fertilizer per hectare, it is still high, especially when compared to other countries. This causes the soil to receive more nutrition than necessary and also increases production costs.

If we talk about the financial impact, with the use of high quality images (especially hyperspectral), it is estimated that there can be a reduction of ≈20% of costs in crop monitoring, laboratory tests, and manual inspection. In addition, it is important to remember the importance of agriculture for social mobility and reduction of extreme poverty, considering that it is an effective sector for increasing the income of the poorest, where in some developing countries it can represent more than 25% of GDP [1].

World Bank Data*

Thus, we could say that implementing these alternatives in crop processes can generate sustainable practices that, in addition, can help regenerate soil health, reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and reduce environmental impacts.

Prevention and community care

Another important aspect that this technology brings to the study of the land is the reduction of risk from natural disasters. Retired Colonel Giovanni Corredor mentions that, through satellite images, it is possible to work on disaster risk management, since it is possible to identify climate risks and act more efficiently. This helps to protect communities and reduce the economic impact generated. The above, taking into account that, in Colombia, the attention and loss due to natural disasters has come to represent 5% of GDP.

Natural disasters are known to kill about 90,000 people every year, affecting about 160 million people worldwide[2]. For these events, space technology can provide information to plan responses and interventions by identifying disasters in advance. In these cases, it would help in early warning of natural disasters in the short and long term, transmitting the data for information dissemination. In addition, when a natural phenomenon impacts a community, satellite communications can facilitate the coordination of the response.

Thus, we see the importance of dealing with climatic phenomena and global risks. These not only threaten the industries that provide food security to the world, but also put millions of people at risk. This is why, with the transfer of space technology to other sectors, new alternatives arrive and the doors open for a market of solutions.


[1] Tomado de: Macroeconomy – World Bank

[2] Tomado de: Space for Agriculture Development and Food Security

*Agriculture, forestry, and fishing, value added (% of GDP) – Indonesia, Myanmar, Paraguay, Nicaragua