Published On: Tue, Aug 16th, 2016

From Space Exploration to Securing West Africa’s Food Supply: NASA Makes a Meaningful Difference

NASA’s space exploration projects have allowed scientists to learn about what exists beyond Earth, and have arguably helped inspire schoolchildren everywhere to don space suits and become astronauts after finishing their studies. Because of the way NASA has made a name for itself by spearheading memorable missions, including one that allowed men to walk on the moon, some people forget to associate the organization with other achievements.

As you’ll soon see, NASA has expanded its reach and turned its attention to helping West Africans enjoy a greater level of food security. People in developed countries often have the luxury of never needing to wonder where they’ll get their next meals, or fret about whether their stockpiled food might run out too quickly. These are daily struggles faced by people in some parts of the world, but NASA wants to play a crucial role in making a positive difference.
Combatting Climate Change

World leaders frequently agree something needs to be done about climate change. However, sometimes that statement is made as if there’s no reason to take extremely quick action, because climate change effects won’t be seen for many decades. Unfortunately, there’s documented evidence of how that’s just not true. Scientists have studied climate change for decades, and a film director named Jeff Orlowski showed the world how climate change is affected us already with his sobering documentary, “Chasing Ice.”

Arkansas NRCS Photo/Tim McCabe

Arkansas NRCS Photo/Tim McCabe

More About the Issue at Hand

Orlowski’s film documented ice caps using time-lapse photography to show how they melted over time. Due to the remote setting of the film though, one might argue the melting ice caps didn’t have a huge effect on humans. NASA’s scientists know that’s not the case, and they are using Earth-observing technology to minimize the effects of climate change in West Africa.

Specifically, NASA’s equipment will target crop growth in an area of West Africa that’s considered one of the world’s most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Temperatures are rising and to make matters worse, rainfall levels aren’t consistent in the region. That means farmers struggle to grow sufficient amounts of crops, which not only affects food security locally, but around the world.

And, the issue of shaky food security is an especially severe one in West Africa. Analysts say the entire livelihood of residents in the aforementioned region depends on the production of just a few crops. Situations that are similar to what’s happening in West Africa would likely be very familiar to CEO Jai Shroff. He leads UPL Limited, an agricultural technology developer that focuses primarily on improving food security initiatives. Since UPL operates in over 120 countries, Shroff has undoubtedly been made aware of other dire situations related to food scarcity.

However, people who aren’t familiar enough with food security to form well-developed opinions about it are probably still wondering how the scarcity of food affects the world, and what NASA is doing to help.
Giving Farmers Crucial Data

Agricultural Research Services

Agricultural Research Services

In July, NASA began an initiative to use its observational tools to collect climate data and then stream it to West African nations. There are three other such programs organized by NASA and all aim to help residents of hard-hit areas boost crop production. Millet and sorghum are two of the most widely grown crops in West Africa, but they’re both dependent on rainfall levels to thrive.

Experts argue traditional methods of predicting when it’ll rain no longer suffice. However, recently, the organization responsible for aviation and meteorology-related matters in Senegal made a move in the right direction by beginning to send text messages to farmers as a way to alert them about rainfall.

Also, in East Africa, NASA’s scientists have built a system that monitors how much water is in rivers and streams and determines when droughts or floods might occur. This same technology might be brought to West Africa, and could enable people there to find out which part of their land is most fertile.

NASA’s scientists say they conducted a West African study a couple years ago and found local governments didn’t have access to climate data, or weren’t using it. Agricultural and environmental professionals are hopeful that may soon change because of NASA’s assistance.

A New Approach to a Growing Problem

Interestingly, NASA’s approach to the food scarcity problem in West Africa doesn’t ignore the previous approaches other organizations have tried. It just capitalizes on one of NASA’s clear strengths: satellite observations. Other scientists have tried to tackle food scarcity issues by examining matters related to water supplies and irrigation, but NASA hopes to make headway by using science-related technology it knows well. NASA’s experts know although the planet has enough food to provide for everyone, there are still 800 million people who are chronically hungry.

Besides using satellites to observe meteorological occurrences in West Africa, NASA’s scientists have used satellite data in other locations to help crops grow more abundantly and conversely, make predictions about possible famines. NASA’s work is just one example of how we might eventually make memorable progress in improving food security for the world, and simultaneously reducing hunger.

Guest Author: Lolita Di

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