Using Remote Sensing to Combat Poverty

Rebecca Maxwell


Remote sensing, the practice of gathering information about objects without being physically near them, has had many practical uses for humans over the last few decades. Satellites in particular are remote sensing devices that have a large variety of functions. They have been used to predict and monitor the weather, enable communications around the globe, track changes in the Earth from space, and enable people to navigate to the nearest grocery store. The use of remote sensing in satellites can be also be used to help improve the lives of people in the poorest regions of the globe.

Data from satellites is being used by the International Fund for Agricultural Development to help combat poverty and support food production. One of those nations benefiting from remote sensing is Niger, a landlocked African nation struggling with food production. Niger is located in West Africa on the edge of the Sahara Desert and only less than four percent of the land is suitable for growing crops. Since the country is also prone to drought, food security is a major problem for the 17 million people who live there. On top of that, the country’s gross domestic product is heavily dependent upon livestock production. The trading of livestock occurs mainly through traditional networks and local markets but nomadic pastoralism is also widespread and a source of income for the people.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has been using satellites in order to support the small rural producers of Niger as well as working to guarantee food security. The IFAD is an agency under the United Nation created in the 1970s in order to encourage agricultural production as a way of combating poverty in developing countries. In Niger, the IFAD is working in the Aguie Department in the southern part of the country to monitor nomadic pastoralism. These herders often come into conflict with farmers over the use of the land and scarce water resources.

This false-colour map derived from satellite data over the Aguie region in southern Niger shows lines (in yellow) indicating corridors of movement. These lines, which seemed to be roads, are actually passages for livestock herding. This information is important to organisations like the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development to monitor how animals are transported and the effect on agriculture. The routes also cross borders, and affect local markets. Source:  GAF AG (map), RapidEye (EO imagery)
Using satellite imagery, this false-color map was created of the Aguie region in southern Niger shows in yellow the corridors of movement for livestock herding. This information is important to organisations like the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development to monitor how animals are transported, the effect on agriculture and local markets, as well as the locations of border crossings.  Click on image for larger map.  Source: GAF AG (map), RapidEye (EO imagery)

The IFAD monitors pastoralism by using maps that have been created from high-resolution satellite data. This data covers elements like land use, changes in the land, livestock routes, water points, and grazing lands. The maps are prepared by a team from GAF, a provider of geo-information. These teams are focusing on and analyzing the network of land corridors that pastoralists use. The hope is that this information on livestock movement will help the IFAD with project planning and agricultural development, specifically the cross-border transfer of animals, livestock markets, and water and forage supplies. The maps can also help the IFAD with implementing regional and local decisions like where to build roads and place markets.

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Niger is not the only country that stands to benefit from economic development through the use of satellite data. The European Space Agency (ESA) has also been cooperating with the IFAD in order to support agriculture in the African nations of Gambia, Botswana, and São Tomé. Plus, the ESA hopes that their new Sentinel satellites will improve the availability of environmental information over the next few years. This data can expand the capacity of agencies like the IFAD and others to help developing countries across the globe.

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About the author
Rebecca Maxwell
Rebecca Maxwell is a freelance writer who loves to write about a variety of subjects. She holds a B.A. in History from Boise State University. Rebecca has also been a contributing writer on