Satellite ImagingAccording to a report that  Sri Lankan agricultural experts  have planned  to use new satellite imagery  which has been developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines and the European Space Agency (ESA) to forecast rice crops that are now seen to be increasingly vulnerable to changing climate. With a capacity to monitor weather conditions and other factors like water availability, one can advise farmers on what to expect as stated by Amitha Bentota, Head of Sri Lanka’s Rice Research and Development Institute (RRDI). Presently, there is a lack of round-the-clock capacity and our predictions reflect the lack of data.

Further, the IRRI has developed a mosaic of images from ESA’s Sentinel-1A satellite covering over seven million square kilometers of South and South-east Asia. Sentinel’s ‘synthetic aperture’ cameras can monitor the earth’s surface even during rain and cloud cover, allowing continuous monitoring of agriculture. It has been observed that in Sri Lanka the rice harvest has been hit hard by extreme dry spells as well as heavy rains in the last five years. In last year, the harvest was expected to drop by 15 per cent due to a prolonged dry spell, but the availability of irrigation allowed better than average harvests. 

It has been indicated that in case if such condition continue on availability of mapping, it would be really useful, because then it would be possible to know what kind of a harvest we will get. Now one has to wait till the last moment to know whether we will lose a harvest, as narrated by L. R. Jayatissa, a farmer from Degamadulla district in Sri Lanka’s east, who informs SciDev.Net. As revealed by the IRRI officials that mapping with high-resolution cameras on board satellites was not available previously due to high costs, but ESA is now providing the images free of cost.

Furthermore, this programme will allow rice yield estimates to be made available early, even in the middle of the season. Another advantage is that it will allow rapid appraisal of yields which is a key factor in improvement of area-based yield insurance programmes as Tri D. Setiyono, an IRRI scientist working on the programme, tells SciDev.Net.  In addition, Setiyono also told that high-resolution maps across large areas can be used to take advantage of existing irrigation infrastructure. The maps and imagery can also be used to detect pest infestations and it helps in disease management and time harvests. Accurate predictions can be used to advise governments on whether or not to import food stocks, instead of waiting for a harvest to crash. 

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Further, in this matter Setiyono informs to SciDev.Net that no country in the region has so far begun using the programme, but pilot projects are being planned in the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. The data developed through the programme will be put up on a web portal for wider dissemination. Now, at present the Asia has some 140 million hectares under rice, representing 90 per cent of the global extent of rice paddies. And it has been indicated that most rice-growing countries reported may be affected by changing climate patterns.

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