Satellite remote sensing can help improve food security situation, tackle adverse effects of climate change

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Mar 14, 2013.

Islamabad – The total cultivated area in Pakistan’s Punjab province is twice the size of cultivated land in Indian Punjab, yet the yield from the neighboring state’s farms is 1.6 times that of Pakistani Punjab’s yield.

Using satellite images data spread over ten years, researcher Ibrarul Hassan Akhtar, who works for Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) has estimated that Indian Punjab farmers begin their wheat sowing season 30 days earlier than the Pakistani Punjab farmers.

Change in farming strategies along with land reforms, subsidies for small farmers and a satellite-based crops intelligence system, which informs the farmers of changing weather patterns and optimum sowing period during the year, could help improve the yields, Akhtar said.

He was sharing the findings of his study at an international workshop on water and food security which began in Islamabad on Monday.

The five-day “International Workshop on Integrated Use of Space Technologies for Food and Water Security” is being hosted by SUPARCO.

The Government of Pakistan has organised the workshop in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UN-OOSA) and Inter Islamic Network on Space Sciences & Technology (ISNET).

Experts from over 30 countries such as Italy, Senegal and Canada are participating in the workshop.

Climate change and water scarcity have made Pakistan vulnerable to food insecurity.

The country’s per capita water availability has reduced to 1,000 cubic metres from around 5,000 cubic metres in 1951, Muhammad Javed Malik, member food and agriculture at the Planning Commission, said at the workshop.

The lack of water and population explosion could affect future food production and food security in the country. But studies, based on space science technologies such as those conducted by Akhtar, could be the building blocks for improving food production.

On Monday, several experts shared their work on space applications in the areas of water security, water management, agriculture and food security.


Douglas Cripe, a water expert at the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), briefed the participants about an Asian “water cycle integrator” initiative, in which 18 countries including Pakistan are collaborating to improve river basin management.

In one of the sessions, Muhammad Jawad of SUPARCO gave a rather ambitious presentation on storage and management of excess water. Jawad used satellite “satellite remote sensing” to suggest a water storage site near Chashma Barrage which could store flood water diverted from the barrage through the Chashma-Jhelum Link Canal.

Satellite remote sensing means the use of satellites to acquire information about the Earth’s surface from a distance.

Earlier, during the opening ceremony, chairman SUPARCO Ahmed Bilal said he hoped the workshop will facilitate a fruitful of technical expertise.

“The people of world at large need to join hands to ensure food security for our future generations,” Bilal said. “I have high hopes that concrete outcomes shall be achieved through this workshop, which when applied will benefit us collectively as well as individually.”

SUPARCO has used satellite remote sensing and space technology applications to work on crop yield estimation, water course management, digitisation of land records and early warning systems for disaster management and mitigation.

Chief Guest Moazzam Ali Khan Jatoi, Minister of State for National Food Security & Research, said food and water security are one of the biggest challenges in today’s world.

“Whereas we have achieved great levels of economic development the world over, we somehow tend to overlook the most important issues of sustainable food and water security,” Jatoi said.

He said space technology could help overcome water scarcity and food insecurity. Several government departments are already using SUPARCO’s satellite-based services for policy decisions, he said.

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