Preventing famine

An international collaboration is aiming to prevent future famines with satellite observations that can detect in real time the first indications of adverse agricultural outcomes.

The European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the American Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) joined efforts to improve food security monitoring systems and develop more efficient early warning tools following the 2007-2008 agricultural crisis that significantly increased the number of countries under threat of famine.

The new Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) system speeds up the reaction time to food security crises by allowing a common and internationally recognised classification of their severity. The standardised scale integrates parameters such as food security, nutrition and livelihood information.

Several organisations dealing with food security in Europe and in the US traditionally rely on satellite observations to support their assessment activities. Yet with the increase in countries potentially threatened by food insecurity, organisations will be forced to monitor a larger number of countries than it is currently possible to with in-country offices.

This year the JRC will extend the real-time monitoring system it has developed to forecast food crises. It will not only cover the Horn of Africa, but all of the most food-insecure countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. As the earth observation and agroclimatic data regularly received by the JRC are global, other countries outside Africa can also be monitored in case of food security crises.

In the US, this year the FEWS NET will extend its food security monitoring system from the current 20 to 50 additional countries around the world. The US Geological Survey (USGS), the National and Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are establishing expedited procedures for processing of satellite data and model runs to support FEWS NET in this task.