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BIPR | Assessing the Impact of War on Ukraine's Agriculture from Space: A NASA Harvest Assessment
Assessing the Impact of War on Ukraine's Agriculture from Space: A NASA Harvest Assessment

December 1, 2023 - 11:30

Inbal Becker-Reshef, NASA Harvest; University of Maryland

Event Recap

Under the NASA Harvest Program, Dr. Becker-Reshef and her team of scientists, developers and economists, are pioneering the use of satellite data to assist policy makers and decision makers. She emphasized the utility of "innovative, robust, and scalable information" to solve complex issues of food security, markets and sustainability that policy makers are facing today. Since the program's inception in 2017, NASA Harvest has been providing actionable information to improve responses to war, climate-change, and natural disasters through partnerships with over 50 organizations across the globe.

The assessment of Ukraine's agriculture is one such project recognized internationally for its innovation and accuracy. When world agriculture markets were bracing for volatility due to the war, data from NASA Harvest showed promising indications that crop production in Ukraine would be close to average despite the war. At the request of the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and food of Ukraine (MAPFU) the team used satellite data to assess the impacts of the war on Ukraine's agricultural lands and estimated cropped area, yield and production of major export crops using satellite data. Becker-Reshef showed a variety of maps and agricultural analysis including an assessment that indicated most of the winter wheat (planted before the start of the war in 2022) was in fact harvested, despite the war, including in Russia occupied Ukraine. She showed the "band of unharvested crops concentrated along the front line" with evidence of harvest residue in fields further away from the front line. Owing to agricultural activity continuing on both sides of the front line as observed by satellite data, the loss of grain was much lower than expected for both winter and summer planted crops, and this was contrary to most estimates at the time. The estimates of higher-than-expected production helped to dampen the supply shock that was expected on international markets, through the challenges of exporting grains due to the war were still a major concern. NASA Harvest conducted a similar analysis for the 2023 season and found that production for both wheat and sunflower was higher than the 2022 season, albeit a significant area of agricultural land along the front line was abandoned accounting for ~7% of Ukraine's fertile agricultural land translating to a loss of over 2 billion dollars in agricultural production.

Upon request by the Ukrainian government, NASA Harvest data used satellite data to estimate the extent of flooding following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam and the consequent loss of irrigation in this semi-arid part of the country. They found an almost complete loss of irrigation 2023 in southern Ukraine, as the major irrigation canals in this region ran dry due to the loss of the Khakovka dam.

NASA Harvest scientists and their partners monitor agriculture across the globe to make inference about yields, soil health, irrigation patterns, and probability of crop failures. They conduct these activities in close partnerships with a wide range of government, UN, and humanitarian organizations. One such example is the G20- GEOGLAM crop monitor which brings together over 40 organizations, to provide consensus-driven, transparent, information on global crop conditions on a monthly basis, with informed estimates about risk exposure, and potential crop shortfalls or surplus.

According to the Crop Monitor, several major wheat producers across the globe experienced favorable weather conditions in 2022 and were on track to meet or exceed production. The same findings were corroborated through observed stabilizing effects in the world market where other countries successfully filled in the lower-than-expected gap left by Ukraine and its export challenges.

One of the top priorities for NASA Harvest going forward is to setup a dedicated Center for Rapid Agricultural Assessments for Policy Support (RAAPS) that can be activated whenever events threaten agricultural production, distribution, or information transparency. This center is presently under development with international partners and is focused on assessing three types of food system shocks: armed conflict; extreme weather events, such as drought or floods; and regions with high agricultural uncertainty or low data transparency. Examples of such assessments include a collaboration with FAO and the Malawi Ministry of Agriculture to assess damage and crop loss after Cyclone Freddy. In Togo, satellite data was used to efficiently allocate aid to susceptible farmers during Covid-19, and in Tigray a collaboration with USAID to assess the impact of the conflict on crop planted areas.

Eager to learn about the application of a new tool for policy analysis, students initiated a lively discussion. The political consequences of using satellite data were of much interest with Becker-Reshef insisting on partner cooperation and stakeholder co-development as a necessary condition for collaboration. She also asserted the importance of field work, proper validation and uncertainty metrics, and sound theoretical reasoning in conjunction with satellite data to harness the full potential of such tools. Becker-Reshef invited students to inquire further into methods of applied sciences in IR, especially GEOGLAM data and monthly bulletins which are accessible online free of charge.



Assessing the Impact of War on Ukraine's Agriculture from Space: A NASA Harvest Assessment

hosted by Professor Eugene Finkel

Inbal Becker-Reshef
NASA Harvest; University of Maryland

Inbal Becker-Reshef is the Program Director of NASA Harvest, leading the overall program, research and vision for Harvest.

Inbal's work is focused on the application of satellite information for agricultural monitoring from the field to global scales, supporting decisions in food security and agricultural markets. She worked closely with national and international partners to initiate the GEOGLAM (GEO Global Agricultural Monitoring) Program, adopted by the G20 in 2011 under the action plan on food price volatility and agriculture. Within this program she is a Program Scientist at the GEOGLAM Secretariat, leading the Crop Monitor initiative, which brings together close to 40 national and international organizations to provide operational monthly global assessments of crop conditions and prospects for the main food suppliers and export countries of the world, as well as for the countries most vulnerable to food insecurity.

Inbal is a Co-Director of the Center for Global Agricultural Monitoring Research at UMD, and a member of the AMIS Steering Committee, GEOGLAM-Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) Technical Team, NASA Water Resources Applied Science Team, and leads the NASA SERVIR Food Security and Agriculture Theme of the Applied Sciences Team. Her background is in soil sciences and remote sensing and she received her Ph.D in Geographical Sciences from the University of Maryland in 2012. She was recently recognized by the US State Department for her work on Food Security and Technologies, winning the US Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Science Prize for Innovation, Research, and Education (ASPIRE) awarded by John Holdren, Former Assistant to the President for Science and Technology.
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