Mongolia is a land locked country with a dry cold continental climate. Wheat consumption constitutes over 50% of the calorific intake of the Mongolian diet. Information on cropped areas and crop growth are important metrics allowing monitoring and analysis of agricultural productivity, prediction of yield and prescription of appropriate interventions to ensure food security and adaptation to above average climate change impacts.
MAPCAM provides crop identification and crop productivity information through the growing season to support a number of different government regulatory, policy, planning and protection functions essential to the viability and sustainability of the agricultural sector, with the longer-term aim of establishing operational services for a range of different user organisations involved in agricultural management and development in Mongolia and other cereal-producing countries.
MAPCAM crop type and crop growth monitoring products for cereal and fodder crops are primarily based on time series Sentinel-1 radar data, which are acquired reliably across the whole country at 10m resolution and 12-day frequency regardless of the weather, and produced and disseminated using cloud platform technology.
Detailed spatial information on crop type, extent, and production variability is needed by government stakeholders concerned with regulation, planning, reporting and protection.
Government agencies responsible for land use mapping need information to update their data on the extent of agricultural cropping activities and to produce new and update existing rural land use planning maps which form part of their current remit to supply map information to other government departments and the wider community.
As is often the case where EO is needed to monitor vegetation development, the crucial growth period is also the period of highest cloud cover. Spaceborne optical solutions are therefore of limited use. Current information-gathering strategies involve interpretation of sporadic medium-resolution optical data, producer declarations and programmes of systematic sampling.
The Service requirement is to provide national spatial information consistently throughout the growing season on the condition, extent, and variability of the crop, by replacing or enhancing existing processes.
Service Operations comprise the processes involved in product generation, including those to support training/validation and dissemination. Through commands sent to a cloud platform, radar and optical satellite data held there are processed using co-located tools to return primary products (crop maps and crop growth monitoring products). Boundaries of land licensed to crop producers from the national cadastre database are used as an additional input.
Primary products will be delivered for direct integration into existing processes within a mapping agency. Principally, they will allow addition of cropping information to a cropland database designed to record annual producer declarations and yield information that is collected through field survey. According to the specific information requirements of government users, routines for derivation of secondary products will be developed and implemented within mapping agency systems. Additionally, primary products will contribute to mapping agency processes of land use planning map creation and update (particularly for the mapping of agricultural land extents and designation of productive, fallow and abandoned land) and cadastre update (identifying potential errors in licensed land boundaries for further investigation).
The diagram below shows the system architecture and main building blocks.
The unique service proposed by the MAPCAM approach is the use of dense time-series C-band radar imagery, which is acquired reliably across the whole country at 10m resolution and 12-day frequency, and is appropriate for mapping crop parcels nationally. The time series allows for reliable discrimination of crop types, as well as derivation of in-season growth indices for planted crop productivity at the sub-field level.
Cloud platforms offering image storage and sophisticated processing capabilities are the game-changing technology that renders the extraction of information products based upon dense time series of high-resolution satellite data over large areas, as well as their visualisation (including on-demand update if needed) and delivery, economically viable.
The service reduces the cost of performing regulatory and planning functions, enhances agricultural monitoring capabilities and enables new measures for climate change adaptation and food security maintenance.
MAPCAM promises temporally and spatially dense information reliably during the growing season at a national scale: there is currently no competing approach that offers this level of coverage and information quality in Mongolia.
Example of preliminary MAPCAM crop map (left) and cereal growth map (right) for August 2018
Through the generation of example products for selected areas in Mongolia and engagement with Mongolian institutions, the MAPCAM kick-start activity has made the case for satellite radar-based mapping and monitoring of cereal and fodder crops as a tool to support a number of different government regulatory, policy, planning and protection functions, thus helping to ensure food security and adapt to above-average climate change impacts. The kick-start activity has completed, and RSAC is now seeking funding for a demonstrator project.
The technical feasibility of reliable crop discrimination and generation of meaningful productivity information using C-band radar time series data on a cloud platform has been established, such that there is no technical reason not to proceed with a demonstrator project.
Discussions with prospective end users in Mongolia have confirmed a strong need for such information, and commitment and willingness to cooperate and provide resources to establish a sustainable service for its provision. This commitment has been underlined by the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding for ongoing collaboration.
The service proposed in Mongolia is equally applicable in other grain-producing countries and, through a demonstrator project, RSAC now proposes to establish the service in Mongolia and lay foundations for future implementations in several other cereal-producing countries.