Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

The GEOGLAM Crop Monitor for Agricultural Market Information System: Providing Timely Information on the World’s Largest Crop Producers and Exporters

This post was written by Inbal Becker-Reshef, Brian Strahan Barker and Estefania Ines Puricelli, with the University of Maryland Dept of Geographic Sciences and NASA Harvest.

There is international consensus that timely and transparent information on crop conditions and production prospects, at the field to global scales, is more critical than ever. Such information has a key role to play in ensuring market transparency and stability, providing early warning of food shortages and guiding humanitarian responses, monitoring and evaluation of interventions, and informing national agricultural policies, to name a few. Whether by humanitarian organizations, governments, insurance companies or farmers, top-dollar decisions are constantly being made that could benefit from more timely and accurate information.

The mounting concern over unpredictable bouts of high and volatile food prices in world markets following the most recent food price crisis of 2007/8 and 2011 led to widespread international calls for improved agricultural information and forecasts. The Group of Twenty (G20 - the international cooperation forum of heads of states) took action, and in 2011 launched two inter-agency platforms to enhance food market transparency and coordinate policy response for food security and crop monitoring: the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), and the Group on Earth Observations Global Agricultural Monitoring (GEOGLAM) initiative Declaration (2011).

AMIS provides an international platform to enhance food market transparency and policy response for food security, while GEOGLAM is focused on enhancing crop monitoring capabilities, in support of policies, investments and decisions in food security, and agricultural markets through the use of Earth Observations (EO).  

While the relationships among crop production, international trade, and food security are highly complex, it is clear that monitoring the key producers and export countries is critical to inform pivotal policy and actions in support of the countries that are most vulnerable to food insecurity, including many of the focus countries for Feed the Future, the US Government’s global hunger and food security initative.

Recognizing the need for timely crop production assessments, AMIS requested that GEOGLAM develop internationally-driven crop assessments for the major production and export countries across the world. Working closely with the AMIS Secretariat, GEOGLAM developed the Crop Monitor for AMIS. 

The Crop Monitor provides a public good of open, timely, science-driven information on crop conditions in support of market transparency. It reflects an international, multi-source, consensus assessment of crop growing conditions, status, and agro-climatic factors likely to impact global production, and thereby international crop commodity markets. It focuses on the major producing and trading countries for the four primary crops monitored by AMIS (wheat, maize, rice, and soybean). Close to 40 organizations contribute to these monthly reports, including a range of Ministries of Agriculture, UN organizations, space agencies, and research organizations. The assessments are largely driven by earth observations, agrometeorological data, ground observations, and expert analysis. 

It was formally launched in September 2013, and since then the Crop Monitor for AMIS  has been providing monthly global crop condition assessments that are published monthly in the AMIS Market Monitor. The assessments cover the four AMIS crops (wheat, rice, maize and soy) within the agricultural producing regions of the major producer and exporter countries, covering close to 80 percent of global production of these crops. Since its launch, the Crop Monitor for AMIS has grown extensively and has become an internationally recognized source of information on global crop prospects, widely quoted by public and private agencies as well as top-tier media. It represents the first time that the international community comes together on a monthly basis to produce joint crop assessments.

Figure 1.  This graphic provides an example of the most recent crop condition map and pie charts, over the AMIS countries’ agricultural regions for all four AMIS crops, (reflecting conditions as of April 28th, 2019). Regions in green indicate close to average conditions. Regions that are in yellow reflect areas that are of potential concern. Regions in blue indicate areas with exceptional crop conditions where a bumper harvest is likely.  Areas in dark gray are agricultural areas that are out of season.  Where conditions are less than favourable, an icon showing the crop being affected and the agro-climatic driver are provided. The pie charts accompanying the map provide an indication of the proportion of production of each AMIS country, as well as the proportion of production within each crop condition category. Together the maps and charts provide a global picture of crop conditions that can be easily interpreted. As an example, the last assessment shows that overall crop conditions are generally favorable for all four AMIS crops at this stage of the growing season, with some areas of concern including in Europe, the Russian Federation and South Africa, primarily due to dry conditions.

Given the success of the Crop Monitor for AMIS, its approach and methods were adapted to monitor crop conditions in the countries most vulnerable to food insecurity, where there is a critical need for improved crop information. The resulting bulletin is the Crop Monitor for Early Warning that was launched in February of 2016 and is published monthly with inputs from the main humanitarian organizations as well as regional organizations and national governments (see recent coverage of Crop Monitor for Early Warning on Agrilinks). In addition, the Crop Monitor methodology has been successfully scaled down for national and regional needs in Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Kenya, and an East Africa regional Crop Monitor hosted by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Climate Prediction & Applications Centre (ICPAC). These Crop Monitors are now providing timely crop condition assessments for national ministries, informing governmental decision-making and leading to better informed policies and programs.

Figure 2. Coverage of countries by Crop Monitor for AMIS, Crop Monitor for Early Warning, regional, and national monitors.

The assessments as well as the interaction they facilitate between the various partners across countries and governments have had wide-reaching impacts. Not only are the assessments routinely used by ministries of agriculture around the world, they also have facilitated the uptake and advanced use of satellite data in many of the partner countries. For example, Esteban Copati, Head of the Estimations department of the Buenos Aires Grains Exchange, an Argentinean non-profit think-tank, points out:

 “Becoming member of the GEOGLAM Crop Monitor community has allowed us to be in contact with specialists in EO techniques. This technology not only has helped us to improve the accuracy of our crop area estimates, the large spatial and temporal scale offered by the RS technologies has also enhanced our analysis between campaigns and / or between regions within the agricultural area of Argentina.

Thanks to groups such as GEOGLAM and NASA Harvest that promote the use of these cutting-edge technologies, today we can provide more accurate information for decision-making by market players.’

The Crop Monitor initiative plays a key role in connecting Remote Sensing technology, international and domestic markets, farmers, policy makers and communities at risk. The Crop Monitor team is continuously working to expand the current set of countries and to advance the accuracy and timeliness of remotely sensed driven variables, in support of improved, free and open data for global crop monitoring.

This figure shows where the research in today's post contributes to the Feed the Future Results Framework