The agency and Google are “ushering in an unprecedented level of environmental literacy,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva in a press release.
Under the collaboration, the UN agency said that resource managers and researchers in many countries can gauge changing land uses of individual field-sized plots seen by “eye-in-the-sky” satellites, thereby improving abilities to assess a landscape’s carbon storage capacity or plan a nation’s approach to greenhouse gas emissions.
FAO stressed that opportunities for future collaboration are “vast,” and may lead to innovation in a range of issues from dietary nutrition and pest control to water management and climate change.
“Understanding the effects of climate change, planning the improvements in the efficiency of production and distribution of food, and monitoring progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals require more frequent and precise data on the environment and its changes,” he added.
The initial focus of the collaboration is in the forestry sector, where FAO said that national experts can, after a short training, use its software and Google’s accessible geospatial data archives to conduct – in a few hours – mapping and classification exercises that used to take weeks or months.
Collaborating between FAO y Google to change future generations
The combination – in which Google makes data and processing power easily accessible while FAO devises ways to extract useful information – has already moved into innovative territory, notably with a Global Dryland Assessment, in which national experts, university researchers, partner institutions and FAO combined forces in an open-sourced exercise. Results will be published later this year, FAO said.
The partnership with FAO is a way “we can each bring our unique strengths to make a change for future generations” Rebecca Moore, Director of Google Earth, Earth Engine and Earth Outreach said.
FAO’s Locust Control Unit has used Earth Engine to improve forecasts and control of desert locust outbreaks. Satellites cannot detect the dreaded insects themselves, but can accelerate identification of potential breeding areas and make ground interventions more effective. Satellite imagery cannot replace the local knowledge and expertise – often dubbed “ground truth” – but it can boost the efficiency, quality, transparency, credibility and, above all, the timeliness and efficacy of data collection and the validation of existing global mapping products.
Other prospective applications for the technology may reduce crop losses yields and enhance plant health. Forest cover monitoring has proven useful in Costa Rica, as trees provide habitat for birds that predate on the coffee berry borer beetle, which can ravage up to 75 per cent of a coffee farmer’s crop.
Further innovative uses will emerge as more people learn how to use FAO’s Open Foris and CollectEarth tools. In late May, a team from NASA, the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration, will be visiting Rome to study how to use these tools, FAO said.
This past December, FAO and Google Maps agreed to work together, under a three-year partnership, to make geospatial tracking and mapping products more accessible, providing a high-technology assist to countries tackling climate change and much greater capacity to experts developing forest and land-use policies.