Can open data from NASA satellites help address the plight of small farmers in rural Kenya?
It absolutely can. The story of how Farm Shop is connecting the dots between the two is an amazing example of the power of shared and open data. Datassist has partnered with Farm Shop on a couple of nonprofit data projects, and we’re proud to be involved with a team that is finding such innovative ways to use data for the greater good.
What is Farm Shop?
Farm Shop is a social sector organization that uses funds from major corporations like MasterCard and Ford to assist small-scale farmers in Kenya who struggle to make ends meet. Farm Shop has created a franchising model that provides farmers with access to high-quality inputs, cutting-edge information, and training that can lead to meaningful economic, agricultural, and social changes.
The program aims to support tens of thousands of small farms — many run by women — providing sustainable jobs and income for farmers, labourers, and their families as well as a reliable source of healthy, fresh food for the people of rural Kenya.
Part of Farm Shop’s work involves measuring the impact of the changes they are making — assessing resiliency increases within their network of smallholder farms. This is a crucial step towards understanding how and where lives are improving. One of the most obvious ways to measure impact is to conduct household surveys to hear from members of the population about the changes Farm Shop is facilitating.
The other way is a little more unusual…
Using Open Data to Measure Impact
The second way Farm Shop measures the impact their programs have is using open data — they rely on geospatial satellite data to monitor productivity levels in the regions where they work with smallholder farms.
This data alone, while inexpensive and broadly accurate, would not be comprehensive enough for impact measurement, but when combined with the more detailed data gathered through household surveys, Farm Shop is able to create a clear picture of the farms they are working with.
Recent research has demonstrated that satellite image data can be used to accurately estimate agricultural yields and crop yield gaps. To that end, Farm Shop is analyzing open data from NASA satellites to develop an understanding of the productivity and resiliency of communities within its network. In the future, handheld GIS tools will be used to map the boundaries of individual farms for even more specific yield analysis.
How Does Farm Shop Use Open Data?
(Excuse us for a moment while we get a little technical. We’re really excited about this.)
The data is collected by a moderate-resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS) operating on NASA’s Terra spacecraft. It has a 2,330km-wide viewing swath and captures the entire surface of the Earth every one to two days. Its detectors measure 36 spectral bands between 0.405 and 14.385 µm, and it acquires data at three spatial resolutions: 250m, 500m, and 1,000m.
The satellite relays data to the grounds station in New Mexico, where it is forwarded to the EOS Data and Operations System (EDOS) and the Goddard Space Flight Center. The Level 1A, Level 1B, geolocation and cloud mask products, and the Higher-level MODIS land and atmosphere products are produced by the MODIS Adaptive Processing System (MODAPS), and are parceled out for distribution to the science and applications community.
What does all that mean? It means information comes from space and is freely available for us (and anyone else with non-commercial plans) to use. This type of data is available for as far back as 1986. That’s some pretty cool open data!
Our analysis relies fundamentally on the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, or NDVI. This provides us with a long-term record of vegetation observations, ranging from water to bare soil to dense green crops. We can also combine this data with rainfall statistics and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s vegetative health index — more valuable open data.
By analyzing all this data for communities included in Farm Shop programs as well as those unaided by Farm Shop, we can, over time, assess the broad productivity of smallholder farms within Farm Shop’s programs and monitor whether their productivity levels are rising or falling relative to similar communities not in the program.
We can also use this information to identify significant climate events (like droughts or floods) and assess how resilient Farm Shop communities are when compared with similar communities. In other words, Farm Shop is literally taking open data from space and using it to improve the lives of rural Kenyans.
You Can Do It Too!
OK, maybe NASA satellite imagery isn’t as relevant to your organization’s efforts as it is to those of Farm Shop — but you can use public or open data to make a difference in the lives of the people you serve.
If you’d like to learn more about leveraging open data as a nonprofit, check out the video from our recent webinar, How to Add Public Data to Your Analysis or download your free copy of our workbook, 7 Steps for Adding Public Data to Your Analysis.
Have a more specific question or want some hands-on help? We do that too. Get in touch with the data experts at Datassist now.