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Frequently Asked Questions

1.       What is the STARS project?

STARS is a research project which is looking for ways to improve agricultural practices in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (SA) by using remote sensing technology.  Supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the project started on June 1st, 2014 and will run for 20 months.

2.       What is the aim of the STARS project?

STARS’ ambition is to determine whether remote sensing technology can help to increase the quality, volume and understanding of food production in emerging economies and to improve the farming activities and livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest people.

These people face incredible challenges such as having to derive all of their income often from land less than two hectares in size, having poor access to farm inputs such as seeds, fertilizers and farm tools, and having to sell their crops into markets governed by rules they cannot influence.  Also, the climates in which they work are often unforgiving, and have recently started to display more extreme events, causing higher risks for the farmer.

3.       Who will benefit from the findings of the STARS project?

The primary purpose of this project is to benefit smallholder farmers, and farming communities in SSA and SA. Other beneficiaries include food policy makers, industry bodies and the private sector.

4.       How will they benefit from the STARS project?

The STARS project will look to advise smallholder farmers on how they can increase their crop yields by using new, or more appropriate, farming methods.  Spatial information on their fields may enable them to gain better access to credits and inputs also.  On a national scale, an improved understanding of farm production will lead to more informed food policies. 

5.       What are the challenges the STARS project is facing?

SSA and SA have extremely diverse farming environments and variable operating conditions, climatic conditions, and farm practices. Collecting data about these environments can be complicated so remote sensing technology needs to be adjusted to cater for these differences. Furthermore, it is also difficult to establish boundaries as fields are often not clearly demarcated.

6.       What is the set-up of the STARS project?

The Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) of the University of Twente in the Netherlands is leading an international group of research institutes.   We are currently running pilot projects, implementing remote sensing technology over actual farm fields in Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Bangladesh with the aim to test a variety of uses of remote sensing technology to identify cropland, crops or crop systems, and perhaps even yields.

7.       Why is remote sensing technology being implemented in this project?

The ITC faculty has, for years, used remote sensing based technology to assist emerging economies with agricultural practices and the management of (other) natural resources.

However, the application of remote sensing technology in smallholder agriculture regions has been hampered by spatial complexity and mixed cropping systems over vast areas, confounded by the high cost of high resolution remote sensing images.

Recent developments in remote sensing technology have meant that the ability to monitor such fields for crop development is much more realistic now. Information can be shared much more easily than previously and better monitoring systems can be implemented as a result.

8.       What results will be visible to the farmers on the ground?

The STARS project expects to develop possible methods and monitoring techniques that could increase efficiencies in their farming methods, along with sharing knowledge and data of benefit for smallholder farmers. One example is an information delivery system for smallholder farmers that provides more details on the status of their crop, management recommendations and more.

9.       In what way does the STARS project expect to contribute to science?

The STARS project aims to improve our understanding of the methods and techniques needed to apply remote sensing technology to assist farming communities. We also hope to compile systems of spectral profiles and associated algorithms that allow follow crop progress over time.

10.    Can we expect the STARS project to bring results for food policy-makers?

The STARS project will study the decision making environment around food production systems in our target regions, and develop options to put remote sensing based-information products into the hands of decision makers.

We also are looking at the viability of producing an online monitor function that provides national production statistics.