Rice is one of the most important basic foods on earth. It is the staple food of more than three and a half billion people worldwide. Most rice is produced in Asia, where some 90 per cent of the world's rice is grown on 140 million hectares of land – an area the size of South Africa. Rice is thus the main source of income for farmers in Asia. However, the entire region struggles with extreme weather conditions. Floods, typhoons and periods of drought are everyday occurrences that repeatedly wipe out entire harvests.
In order to better forecast harvests, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, SwissRe, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the software company sarmap SA and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) have launched a rice crop monitoring initiative. Since 2012, this partnership between public and private organisations has been helping rice farmers and governments in Asia to undertake timely countermeasures when faced with imminent harvest losses.
'RIICE' – which stands for Remote Sensing-based Information and Insurance for Crops in Emerging Countries – collects detailed information for around 15 million hectares of land under rice cultivation in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Viet Nam. The data is generated by so-called SAR satellites that use electromagnetic waves to scan the earth's surface. Powerful enough to penetrate through dense cloud, this technology makes it possible to monitor rice fields during the monsoon period too – which is the main rice-growing period.
GIZ has trained more than 300 staff members from government institutions and agricultural research institutes to analyse the satellite data. The information they glean tells them where and how much rice is being grown in the current season, how the seed is developing and whether the fields have too much or too little water. Long before harvesting actually takes place, experts can use the satellite data to create simulation models that predict the anticipated harvest yield – with approximately 90% accuracy.
Thanks to real-time monitoring and the attendant harvest forecasts, the authorities are able to take steps early on to counter imminent harvest losses. Long before the harvest fails – because of storm-damaged seedlings, for example – support can be rolled out. As was the case in November 2015 in the Indian federal state of Tamil Nadu when weeks of heavy rain flooded entire regions. More than 300 people lost their lives in the deluge which wiped out all the seeds and thus the livelihoods of some 400 rice farmers. With the help of satellite data, the state authorities were able to assess the extent of the damage only a few days after the rains started, enabling them to provide the rice farmers with 50 tonnes of rice seed and 30,000 seedlings for them to resume cultivation immediately once the rain stopped.
SAR data are also important for insurance against crop losses. RIICE and its partners have developed a procedure that allows them to use satellite information to make insurance programmes more efficient and compensation more transparent. In the event of a loss, the farmers concerned can access fast-track assistance, thus reducing income losses and saving them from ruin. In November 2016, for example, the government of the Indian federal state of Tamil Nadu introduced the RIICE technology into its new insurance system. Tamil Nadu experienced the worst draught in over 140 years during the harvest of 2016/2017, comprising the former ‘rice bowl’ of India to a wasteland. Based on information from RIICE, more than 22,500 received compensation for crop losses.
Last update: January 2019