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Agriculture Group Adapts Satellite Imaging, A.I., Big Data

WorldView-4 satellite

WorldView-4 satellite used by DigitalGlobe (DigitalGlobe/Maxar Technologies)

27 June 2018. An international agricultural network is partnering with a private company to boost the group’s capabilities in satellite imaging, big data analytics, and artificial intelligence. Financial terms of the agreement between the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, now called CGIAR, and DigitalGlobe in Westminister, Colorado were not disclosed.

CGIAR, based in Montpellier, France, is an international network of 15 research centers studying questions affecting farmers, mainly in the developing world. Much of the group’s work involves threats to farmers from climate change, including impacts on hunger, food security, the environment, health, and economic development. CGIAR’s research portfolio covers programs on specific crops and food types (e.g., wheat and livestock), studies integrating agriculture with high-priority policy goals such as health and food security, and upgrades to its own research technologies.

One of those research technologies is CGIAR’s platform for big data in agriculture. The platform aims to collect vast quantities of data from a wide range of sources, and provide meaningful recommendations for growers and policy makers. In addition, CGIAR aims to open up this platform, making it accessible to users in its target regions in Africa, Asia, America, and the Caribbean, addressing questions such as climate change, pest and disease outbreaks, and land degradation.

CGIAR is partnering with DigitalGlobe, a division of Maxar Technologies, to boost the group’s big data in agriculture platform. DigitalGlobe provides access to its library of satellite images worldwide that the company says totals 100 petabytes, for clients in the public and private sectors. DigitalGlobe also offers tools for interpreting and managing its satellite images, with the data used for defense, public safety, environmental monitoring, and commercial uses.

Among those analytical services is DigitalGlobe’s geospatial big data platform, or GBDX, that identifies and quantifies objects in the satellite image library to answer specific questions or provide meaningful insights. CGIAR plans to adapt the GBDX service for its big data in agriculture platform, both by mining data from DigitalGlobe’s libraries and intensive analysis driven by machine learning. The organization plans to create new data sets with GBDX to better monitor crop health, crop yield and the environmental impacts of farming.

The GBDX-CGIAR collaboration is initially expected to address four sets of issues:

Advance land tenure in India, Ethiopia, and West Africa, helping secure property rights by locating and identifying specific land parcels

Improve estimates of crop yields and production, particularly staple crops like rice, to help reduce food insecurity

Boost water conservation by modeling water use and quality, then matching the models against high-resolution images to help growers better plan irrigation of their fields

Improve monitoring and predictions of crop pests and disease, starting with the fall armyworm, a notorious threat to corn and other crops affecting 12 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Brian King, coordinator of CGIAR’s big data for agriculture platform, says in a Maxar/DigitalGlobe statement that the partnership will deliver “a clearer picture than ever before of land use, natural resources, crop lands and much more, which we need to develop the strategies to build lasting food security worldwide.”

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