A review of satellite-based global agricultural monitoring systems available for Africa

May 12, 2021

The increasing frequency and severity of extreme climatic events and their impacts are being realized in many regions of the world, particularly in smallholder crop and livestock production systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). These events underscore the need for timely early warning. Satellite Earth Observation (EO) availability, rapid developments in methodology to archive and process them through cloud services and advanced computational capabilities, continue to generate new opportunities for providing accurate, reliable, and timely information for decision-makers across multiple cropping systems and for resource-constrained institutions. Today, systems and tools that leverage these developments to provide open access actionable early warning information exist. Some have already been employed by early adopters and are currently operational in selecting national monitoring programs in Angola, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. Despite these capabilities, many governments in SSA still rely on traditional crop monitoring systems, which mainly rely on sparse and long latency in situ reports with little to no integration of EO-derived crop conditions and yield models. This study reviews open-access operational agricultural monitoring systems available for Africa. These systems provide the best-available open-access EO data that countries can readily take advantage of, adapt, adopt, and leverage to augment national systems and make significant leaps (timeliness, spatial coverage and accuracy) of their monitoring programs. Data accessible (vegetation indices, crop masks) in these systems are described showing typical outputs. Examples are provided including crop conditions maps, and damage assessments and how these have integrated into reporting and decision-making. The discussion compares and contrasts the types of data, assessments and products can expect from using these systems. This paper is intended for individuals and organizations seeking to access and use EO to assess crop conditions who might not have the technical skill or computing facilities to process raw data into informational products.