Defining the user requirements for the food security use case

Food security, especially in a changing Earth environment, is one of the most challenging issues of this century. Population growth, increased food consumption, and the challenges of climate change will extend over the next decades. To deal with these, both regional and global measures are necessary. There is a need to increase biomass production which means to increase the yield in a sustainable way. It is important to minimize the risks of yield loss even under more extreme environmental conditions, while making sure not to deplete or damage the available resources.

Irrigation, as one of the most important measures for food production, requires reliable water resources in the area that is being farmed, either from ground water or surface water. Irrigation planning and choosing the right measures at the right time, requires detailed and reliable information on status and prospects of water availability.

One of our first jobs within the Extreme Earth Project is to define the user requirements. To start with this, we have to ask us the following questions:

  1. Who are the users?

    Users can come from numerous areas with different background: For course, the most obvious users are the farmers themselves, or better representatives from large agricultural companies. But of course, also irrigation companies or consulting agencies might be very interested in the information we will gain through this project. Maybe the most important users are the stakeholders or decision makers from communal, federal and national governments or even the EU authorities. We did some research to find the according key persons of each category and invited them to our first User’s Workshop that we organised in March in Munich.

  2. What are their requirements or their needs in terms of food security?

    After intense discussions with a group of potential demo users on our User’s workshop we also created a questionnaire to identify the additional user’s needs. The evaluation of this questionnaire will give us more information about technical requirements like resolution, format and accessibility of the final product, as well as thematic requirements like areas of interest and main crops.

  3. Why do we focus on irrigation?

    To sustain global food security, two practices are of high importance: irrigation and fertilization. Fertilisation is a bio-chemical process that can be controlled and optimized through agricultural management. It relies mainly on industrial goods, and the resources for it can be transported if the necessary infrastructure is available.

    Water availability is – in contrast to fertilisation – a highly variable and often uncertain variable. Limited water availability can be an issue for many farmers, industries and governments. A large portion of the world’s fresh water is linked to snowfall, snow storage and seasonal release of the water. All these components are subject to increased variability due to climate change and this might result in an increase in extreme events.

    With the use of the Earth Observation data, modelling and in-situ measurements of the snow cover, all necessary information regarding water availability can be obtained – especially now using sophisticated deep learning techniques to handle the large data volume of the Copernicus archive. With this approach VISTA will be able to combine for example seasonal information about water storage in the Alps, with the highly dynamic water demand in agricultural areas such as the Danube area and give large scale recommendations for private farmers, but also for national governments about sustainable water usage.

Anja Rösel - VISTA, April 2019