Geospatial tech could boost Africa’s agricultural sector

Rasamma and her son uprooting cabbage
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  • Geospatial services such as flood monitoring could develop African agriculture
  • Investments in geospatial tech is key to Africa meeting SDGs
  • Young people should be aided to get interested in space science, says an expert

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[NAIROBI] Policies that promote the adoption of geospatial technologies such as remote sensing could help Sub-Saharan Africa address key development challenges in the agricultural sector, says a meeting.

The conference of Kenya-headquartered Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) that took place in Kenya last month (27-29 September) aimed to share knowledge on how African countries could use earth observation data to find lasting solutions to challenges such as drought, famine and water scarcity.

“Agriculture is one of the most talked about sectors, but it is often neglected in practical terms.”

Shuaib Lwasa, Makerere University

The conference noted that RCMRD is working with development partners to provide geospatial technological services such as drought monitoring, flood predictions and land cover mapping to help governments and others respond to extreme weather conditions and build resilience.

But the delegates at the conference that was attended by RCMRD’s member states from Eastern and Southern Africa such as Botswana, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, Swaziland, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe were concerned about the persistent low uptake and use of space science, especially at policy-making in Africa level.

“Agriculture is one of the most talked about sectors, but it is often neglected in practical terms,” said Shuaib Lwasa, an associate professor at Makerere University’s Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Climatic Sciences in Uganda.

Lwasa said that if Eastern Africa uses space science data in policy-making, the region’s agricultural productivity could increase, thus boosting food security.

“We often wait for crises to act,” said Lwasa, adding that limited disaster preparedness and lack of ideal science-policy engagements have led to crises that paralyse the region’s economy, with agriculture being the hit hardest.

Emmanuel Nkurunziza, director-general of the RCMRD, told SciDev.Net that Sub-Saharan Africa needs space science to make decisions, especially in the agricultural industry, which is the backbone of the region’s economy.

For instance, he said that the use of satellites in monitoring maize crop conditions and yields in Tanzania could help the country plan and take appropriate measures to help improve the agricultural sector and livelihoods, particularly of the rural poor.

Nkurunziza added that for Africa to meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in the UN’s Agenda 2030, investments in and use of geospatial technologies are needed.

“There is still low uptake of scientific research in policy because of poor communication and lack of trust in new scientific knowledge,” explained Nkurunziza, adding that there is a need to involve more young people in space science to increase its sustainability.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.