Precision Agriculture for Iraq’s and Syria’s Post-Conflict Recovery

05 February 2019

Historically, agriculture has played a very important role in the fertile crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Today, after years of ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria, agriculture and the livelihoods that depend on it have suffered massive loss in this area. The fighting is not only putting civilian lives in danger, but also jeopardizing the agricultural production in the region. Several families dedicated to rural farming and herding have been forced to migrate or look for other sources of income. Moreover, vast areas of agricultural land, resources and infrastructures have been destroyed.

The regions where agriculture have been more affected are the Nineveh, Kirkuk and Salahuddin governorates in Iraq and Al-Hassakah, Ar-Raqqa, Rural Damascus, Deir-ez-Zor, Dara’a and Idleb in Syria.

According to a research carried by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), food production is at a record low in Syria and around half the population remaining in this country are unable to meet their daily food needs. In spite of the crisis, agriculture remains a stronghold for the country’s economy, accounting for around 26 % of the gross domestic product (GDP). However, FAO reported loses of around USD 16 billion in terms of production, along with damaged and destroyed assets and infrastructures within the agriculture sector.

In Iraq, after a period of stagnation in the 1990s, agriculture rapidly declined. Iraq’s oil-driven economic growth resulted in the neglection of the agricultural sector, in low investment levels and in rural populations leaving farms to move into urban areas. In addition, the conflict with ISIS and their scorched-earth strategy is estimated to have reduced Iraq’s production capacity by at least 40%, according to the Jordan-based organization Regional Food Security Analysis Network.

Agriculture is not only an important source of income that benefits poor population, reduces the need of humanitarian assistance and stems migration, but also a key element for political legitimacy by ensuring food provision to the broader population. Thus, agricultural development efforts are key to rehabilitate livelihoods and prevent radicalization and conflicts.

Assessing the impact of conflict on agriculture

Deimos Imaging launched a campaign to monitor agricultural fields in Syria and Iraq with the Earth Observation satellites Deimos-1 and Deimos-2. Both satellites include the near-infrared band and they provide analytic-ready imagery supplying the information needed for vegetation indices calculations. Vegetation indices provide an indication for the relative density and health of plants for each pixel of Deimos-1 and Deimos-2 imagery. In addition, the high temporal revisit capacity of both satellites ensures a systematic data collection, enabling consistent monitoring and analysis. The data supplied by Deimos Imaging can be used to supply a powerful operational service for precision agriculture with an accurate multitemporal overlay at pixel level. This can empower the precision agriculture users at different stages: planning; in-season practices and yield.

Deimos-1, the very first Earth Observation Spanish satellite, has been continuously providing data since 2009. With a spatial resolution of 22 m, a 650 km swath and a 3 days revisit frequency, it enables to timely monitor any area of interest. The satellite’s 3 spectral channels (red, green, NIR) were designed to be compatible with the ones of the Landsat series, ensuring continuity with existing tools and harmonization with historical data, enabling cross-calibration and comparisons across satellites and locations and enabling a seamless analysis of extended time series. This multispectral capability makes it an easy-to-use and cost-effective tool to improve the efficiency of cultivation practices and to implement precision agriculture techniques. It can be used in a wide range of applications such as drought assessment, crop analysis and grazing management.

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