As we get further away from the SDG 2 target of Zero Hunger, food security remains one of the most pressing issues we face, especially in the context of increasing extreme weather events under a warming climate. As such, innovation in developing robust and scalable measures to monitor the world’s crops in a timely, transparent manner is a key component in helping to address this global challenge. With recent major advances in Earth observing (EO) satellites, cloud compute, GPS technologies, and machine learning/artificial intelligence, we currently have the data and tools needed to monitor and track nearly every field across the globe on a near daily basis. COVID-19 continues to touch nearly every aspect of our daily lives, and recent droughts, floods, supply chain issues, and conflict have devastated livelihoods and impacted agricultural production, leading to an unexpected relevance and urgency regarding the need for improved agricultural information, and serving to further highlight information gaps that satellite data can help fill. Understanding production prospects in near real time has never been more important in order to direct and prioritize early warning & proactive food security response and support well-functioning agricultural markets.
In 2016 in an effort to help address these challenges, NASA’s Applied Sciences Program called for a new concerted effort and, for the first time, openly competed for a program on agriculture and food security. The NASA Harvest Consortium, led by the University of Maryland, was selected, and in November 2017 became NASA’s official program on Agriculture and Food Security. It is a stakeholder-driven program, motivated by the fact that more timely and accurate agricultural information, as enabled by EO data and advancing technologies, can significantly enhance key agricultural decisions, whether by humanitarian organizations, governments, insurance companies, or farmers. It is run as a multi-sectoral Consortium aimed at enabling and advancing the awareness, use, and adoption of satellite Earth observations by public & private organizations to sustainably benefit food security and agricultural resilience in the US and worldwide. The NASA Harvest Consortium is comprised of more than 50 members spanning across the public, private, non-government and government, intergovernmental organizations, and the humanitarian sectors alike. The Consortium is led by researchers at the University of Maryland, which provides a hub with distribution partners and activities. Harvest is also NASA’s contribution to the international GEOGLAM program, mandated by the G20 in 2011 to increase market transparency and improve food security, and builds on the partnerships and work established through GEOGLAM. The consortium model has the advantage of focusing multiple institutions and partner organizations on specific problems and tasks, with more agility than individual conventional research proposals.
NASA Harvest works at global, regional, national, and field levels in agricultural systems that range from subsistence to large-scale commodity production. The program has three impact areas: agricultural land use, sustainability, and productivity. It aims to improve these three areas by advancing the quality, availability and timeliness of EO-based products and methods in crop land and crop type mapping, crop condition monitoring, crop statistics generation, crop yield forecasting and estimation, and cropping practices characterization. To accomplish this, its program of activities is designed to advance the state of the science and the state of use through innovation in field data collection and sharing, public-private partnerships, open trans-disciplinary data platforms, data integration, data science and capacity development. This talk will provide an overview of the NASA Harvest program and will highlight examples of its work and impact across the agricultural markets, humanitarian and private sector domains.