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FAO awarded for innovative use of geospatial technologies in food and agriculture sector

Two innovative products of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) won prizes at the fifth annual GEO SDG Awards, which recognize institutions, organizations and countries that are applying geospatial and Earth observation techniques and innovations towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

FAO won the SDG Custodian Agency Prize for the pathbreaking WaPOR portal, which monitors land and water productivity by remote sensing, and also shared the prize for Statistical-Geospatial Integration for its work with the Lesotho Bureau of Statistics in developing a rapid method of monitoring land cover and ecosystems, key components of SDG 15.

The prizes were organized by Earth Observations for the Sustainable Development Goals (EO4SDG Initiative under the auspices of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) at an award ceremony in Cape Town, South Africa. The jury comprised a set of experts from different countries and sectors whose selection criteria were the overall impact, quality and soundness of the Earth observation endeavours and their potential for replication and upscaling.

GEO is a partnership of more than 100 national governments and even more participating organizations, representing researchers, data providers and businesses, that advocates for the use of coordinated, comprehensive and sustained geospatial monitoring to support decisions and actions that benefit mankind. GEO coordinates a “system of systems” that includes more than 400 million open-data resources from an array of providers including NASA and the European Space Agency as week as commercial actors.

“We are delighted at the impact and recognition of our innovative geospatial efforts and committed to intensifying this area of activity,” said Lifeng Li, Director of FAO’s Land and Water Division.

The winners

WaPOR, formally “Water Productivity through Open access of Remotely sensed derived data”, offers open access to a near real-time database that uses satellite data to monitor agricultural water productivity at various scales.

Rolled out in 2017, it has recently been expanded to encompass the entire globe, and its granularity deepened to the point of measuring evapotranspiration rates on land surfaces as small as 20 meters. These traits help assess exactly when and how much waters crops need, allowing farmers to boost their water-use efficiency and contribute to SDG6.4.1, of which FAO is the custodial agency.

The GEO Award for Statistical-Geospatial Integration was given to the Lesotho Bureau of Statistics and FAO Lesotho for developing a way rapidly to compute the Mountain Green Cover Index at the national level.

The solution uses EOSTAT data disaggregated by elevation zones using Sentinel-2 land cover data. It has proven a game changer, filling pertinent data and gaps, offering significant cost savings on field survey activities, and allowing Lesotho to update its figures for reporting on SDG 15.4.2, which had been stalled for almost a decade.

The approach has also integrated data to identify hotspots of vegetation degradation, monitor the impact of land restoration projects and assess the impact of climate change on ecosystems around the country, further increasing Lesotho’s national capacity to produce reliable SDG indicators as well as monitor ecosystem health and landscape trends.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

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