Satellites and high-tech solutions help African farmers face historic drought

African and European researchers are employing high-tech water management research methods to help low-tech South African smallholders improve food security.

 Additionally, extremely high levels of Microcystin toxicity and uranium contamination in important river systems spark calls for extra research on bioaccumulation through the human food chain.

South Africa is experiencing its severest drought in more than a century. Savannahs – grasslands scattered with trees and scrubs, which cover about half of Africa – are some of the most productive environments of the continent, supporting livestock and rural livelihoods. Drought jeopardises the productivity and resilience of these ecosystems.

Researchers from South African and European universities, and other organisations, are trying to create the first savannah-water-use-and-stress-maps, to help smallholder farmers face the lack of precipitation and plan irrigation.

Field and Earth observation data, obtained from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Sentinel satellites, will allow the researchers, led by Timothy Dube, at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, and Ana Andreu, at UNU-FLORES in Germany, to determine the health and vulnerability of the ecosystem. They recently collected their first field data in arguably one of Africa’s best-known patches of savannah – the Kruger National Park.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement No. 689239