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Rural development gets help from the sky


The International Fund for Agricultural Development has been funding projects in Madagascar for over 30 years to eradicate rural poverty. With the country facing an exploding population and food crisis, the agency is looking skyward for support.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is not only working in Madagascar but also supporting poor rural people around the world to help them grow more food and achieve better livelihoods.

Earth observation satellites allow objective assessments of remote rural areas to help design, plan and monitor the impact of IFAD’s development projects.

ESA and IFAD have been working together to identify the detailed information needed to support selected projects in Madagascar.

ESA has carried out three trials to demonstrate how state-of-the-art Earth observation services can provide this information and improve the impact of IFAD’s project.

Strengthening food security

One of IFAD’s projects is to strengthen the food security of the rural population in the dry, famine-prone region of the Mandraré Basin by increasing productivity of the irrigated and rain-fed crops.

To help IFAD assess the effect of their project and monitor previous activities, the trial delivered satellite maps to determine the current state of crops and changes in land cover over a period of 15 years.

“Since remote sensing has become a popular area of study and experts can be found all around the world, incorporating these data into our projects helps us to strengthen local capacity and transfer knowledge to local stakeholders to improve national capacities,” said Benoit Thierry, IFAD’s Madagascar Country Programme Manager.

Improving development planning

IFAD’s project to support development in the Menabe region focuses on the sustainable expansion of arable land, mainly through irrigation schemes and securing agricultural land.

In order to allow IFAD to single out areas for further agricultural activities, the trial produced land-cover maps and digital models of the area’s slope and drainage system to pinpoint areas prone to flooding.

“With these products, we can get details about the land and develop action plans much quicker by sending teams only to select areas,” Thierry said.

Securing land rights

IFAD is supporting a scheme introduced by the Malagasy Government that offers rural farmers the opportunity to formalise ownership of the land on which they depend.

In order to simplify the exchange of land titles, a mosaic based on new very high resolution satellite images was produced of three districts in Haute Matsiatra. The mosaic allows IFAD to estimate the location and size of specific fields.

Following these initial trials, IFAD and ESA are discussing how satellite data can support other development activities, including assessing food security, managing water and adapting to climate change.

“If we don’t incorporate this technology into our work now, I’m afraid we will miss the train,” Thierry said.


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