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April 7, 2013

Food Price Map Web Extra Video

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ScienCentral News' story, Food Price Map revealed that eyes in the sky may provide a better idea of how good a harvest will be, and how much consumers will end up paying in the market.In the video at right, NASA research scientist Molly Brown further explains how it works and how human agriculture is having an effect on the climate.

What is satellite remote sensing?
How do you use it in your project?

The satellite remote sensing, what it does is it measures how vital or how well plants are growing on the surface. And so it can be trees or shrubs, or in my case, what I'm interested in is variations in the health of the plant. So if it's a corn crop for example. If it was very dry that year, the corn would be very small and brown and produce very little grain.

Vegetation Map
image: NASA
So, we can detect those variations from space, and we have information about every place on the surface instead of just point information at each farm. And so because the information is continuous and it has information about every single farm, we can then determine locations that have more production of a maize crop for example, and places that have less. And those variations will again impact the price.

How does your model look into the future?

One of the things that makes the model that my colleagues and I developed really powerful is that it allows us to look into the future, it gives us some predictive capacity.

How we do that is that we take a historical relationship between prices and production, and we couple it with information about what might happen in the future. So the models that we use to predict changes in vegetation in the future are based on rainfall estimates in the future and humidity.

So what the model does is it says if it's raining today, the plants are going to get greener until they get as green as they've ever been throughout the entire historical record. And then once that peak is attained, then we look at whether or not it continues to rain, or whether or not the humidity falls off and the plants then start to get less and less green. Because in this region, it rains only for four months or so.

How are agriculture and climate related?

Farmers in West Africa bring their grain to market
image: International Monetary Fund
Agriculture is a really important way that humans transform the land, and so by transforming the land we affect the climate, as well as the climate of course affects agriculture.

And so the coupling of the two systems is not recognized in most climate models, and therefore they do often a very poor job in giving us information about how the environment will change in the next couple decades.

In Africa, this is even more important because there's very few resources to respond to changes in climate. And so by using technology and observations and models together, we can provide information which will really help people adapt and change along with their climate.

This research will be published in the journal Land Economics in Spring 2008, and was funded by NASA, USAID, and the USDA.

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