RIICE: Remote Sensing-based Information and Insurance for Crops in Emerging Economies
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UPDATED on 13 July 2015
Rice is one of the world’s leading food crops, which provide food security for more than three and a half billion people. Most of rice crop is produced in Asia, where 90 per cent of the world’s rice is grown on 140 million hectares of land – an area larger than South Africa. Rice is thus the main source of income for Asian farmers. However, the entire region is struggling with extreme weather conditions. Floods, typhoons and periods of drought are the norm and harvests are frequently destroyed.
Therefore, timely and precise information on rice cultivation and expected harvests are essential for food security. Traditionally, a country’s government supports its farmers with emergency assistance when disasters result in widespread yield losses, which pose a threat to a sufficient food supply. However, ad hoc financial disaster relief is difficult to plan and puts a considerable strain on the national budget. As a result, governments seek long-term risk management approaches. Crop insurance is one tool that shifts the financial risk of natural disasters and can help manage the financial impact on smallholder farmers.
To be able to better predict yields and take timely measures for failed harvests, GIZ, the reinsurance company SwissRe, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the software company sarmap SA and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) have established an initiative aimed at monitoring and protecting rice-growing areas against extreme weather events. Since 2013, this partnership of public and private organisations has supported rice farmers and governments in South-
East Asia to be able to respond quickly if facing the threat of crop failure.
To reduce the vulnerability of smallholder rice farmers to extreme weather events and increases their economic well-being
Remote Sensing-based Information and Insurance for Crop in Emerging Economies (known as ‘RIICE’) collects and analyses detailed information on around 15 million hectares of rice-growing areas in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Viet Nam. Initially, the project supported its Asian partner countries in developing a satellite-supported technology that provides timely and precise information on rice-growing areas, yields and estimated losses. This is based on the European Space Agency’s (ESA) satellite system Sentinel, which provides free snapshots of the whole of Asia at regular intervals.
Sentinel uses a radar satellite, which scans large areas of the earth’s surface with electromagnetic waves. It can also penetrate dense cloud, which means that rice fields can be monitored during the monsoon season, the main rice-growing period. During the first few years it was a matter of testing and validating this innovative technology on the partner countries’ pilot sites. Now the focus is on expanding the technology and applying the available data. Since 2015, the project has signed agreements with partner governments and government-linked agricultural institutions and is supporting partner countries in the countrywide expansion and application of the technology. In particular, SAR data plays a significant role in crop insurance. GIZ and its partners have developed a procedure to make insurance programmes more efficient and compensation more transparent with the aid of satellite information.
In the event of loss, the farmers affected receive immediate assistance, therefore minimising income losses and saving them from ruin. In November 2016 for example, the government of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu introduced RIICE technology into its new insurance system, so that now more than one billion farmers are insured.
So far, GIZ has trained over 300 employees from government institutions and agricultural research institutes in analysing satellite data. This includes, for example, information on where and how much rice has been grown in the current season, how the seed is developing and whether there is too much or too little water in the fields. Experts are able to create forecasts on anticipated crop yields based on satellite data using simulation models long before actual harvesting – with around 90 per cent accuracy.
Thanks to real-time monitoring and the predictions derived from this, authorities are able to counteract impending crop failures at an early stage. They are able to provide support well in advance of crop failures, for example, if seedlings have been destroyed as a result of severe weather as was the case in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu during the harvest of 2016/2017. Due to the worst drought in over 140 years, the former ‘rice bowl’ of India was now comprised only of wasteland. Based on information from RIICE, more than 22,500 rice farmers received compensation of on average 255 EUR for crop losses within three months, which otherwise would have taken up to a year.