Can space-based solutions help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? In this article, we aim to raise awareness of the space community’s crucial role for SDG2, Zero Hunger, and to inspire further collaboration between the space sector and other stakeholders in addressing global challenges.
Creating a World Free of Hunger by 2030
The overall goal of SDG2, Zero Hunger, is ‘creating a world free of hunger by 2030.’ This target will extend beyond the 2030 achievement, as SDG2 aims to achieve food security for all.
To manage this goal, the United Nations (UN) set 8 targets and a subsequent 14 indicators to measure progress. The 8 targets encompass malnutrition, priority demographics, agricultural productivity, fighting climate change, fair international trade, ethical research and investment, as well as creating a stable market.
Eliminating hunger is a global fight. About 1 in 10 people worldwide are suffering from hunger (UN). Not only does SDG2 address current hunger but also the fragility of this human right that is threatened by climate change, conflict and population growth. The ongoing climate crisis has disrupted weather patterns, leading to more frequent and severe droughts and floods that wreak havoc on agricultural output. Simultaneously, population growth, especially in developing countries, has resulted in a rising demand for food. Furthermore, poor infrastructure and a lack of access to marketplaces in rural regions create problems in the distribution of food. The situation is made more complex by socio-political factors like conflicts, economic inequalities, and inefficient food policies that contribute to food insecurity and malnutrition.
Space Technology for SDG2
Space technology can assist stakeholders from an individual to a multinational scale. Irrigation management can improve the crop yield of farmers, weather forecasting for regional prediction models by agronomists and supply chain management for manufacturers. These are merely examples, as the scope of stakeholders within SDG2 is immeasurable. Space-based tools comprise but are not limited to carbon capture, environmental impact monitoring, decision-making, soil analysis, precision agriculture, deforestation, land cover mapping, yield forecasting and climate and weather services. These innovative solutions are evolving and improving, thus becoming increasingly accessible and producing more data – critical for mitigating food poverty and its consequences.
Remote sensing tools are well-established for agriculture. Vegetation indices are a technique in remote sensing for quantifying the health and distribution of vegetation and, in turn, the productivity of agricultural practice.
Many vegetation indices have been around for some time. Created in the 1970s, the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) distinguishes the health of vegetation cover from its surroundings by detecting the wavelength of light reflected from chlorophyll. Since these early developments, and especially now, artificial intelligence and complex indices are integrating multiple parameters for accurate agricultural monitoring.
Precision agriculture has excelled as image resolution, temporal frequency, and availability of remotely sensed data has improved. Down to the individual field level, precision agriculture can differentiate vegetation and soil types. Based on soil moisture, leaf area, climate and many other indices, recommended water and nutrient quantities for optimum productivity results in higher crop yields.
Space2030 (by the International Space University and University of South Australia), states
“At this pace, the target of “zero hunger” set by the UN as its foremost Sustainable Development Goal will unlikely be met by 2030. However, the use of EO and Global navigation satellite systems in precision farming is a beacon of hope for achieving this seemingly unreachable target.”
Long-term climatic changes will impact agriculture and the availability of food. This includes the type of crops, where they can be grown, the impact of climate-induced disasters like wildfires and pest and disease risk.
Not only are technological advancements increasing the use of remote sensing tools, but also the accessibility of free, open-access data. Climate variables including precipitation, temperature and soil moisture are openly available for free use via USGS EarthExplorer, EOSDA LandViewer, ESA Copernicus Data Space Ecosystem, Sentinel Hub and Google Earth – just to mention a few. The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) published the ‘Agroclimatic indicators explorer for Europe from 1970 to 2100,’ allowing the user to mitigate the impacts of future climatic changes down to farm-level.
By considering external environmental factors like climate change and natural disasters, food security is more attainable. On top of this, as climate change affects the global food market as one, more stakeholders are likely to be inclined to provide and implement remote sensing tools into decision-making, for instance, global initiatives including the World Food Programme, UN Zero Hunger Challenge and Think.Eat.Save.
Target 2.4: By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality.
A Global Solution to Zero Hunger?
To achieve SDG2, space technology must be accessible for everyone, globally.
Remote sensing technology creates a base for societal and economic success by providing environmental data to aid decision-making, with the following advantages:
- Data over a large spatial footprint
- Extended historical records and future projections
- A large number and range of indices
This data may be accessible, but does everyone have the capacity to implement change?
Target 2.3: By 2030, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment.
Worldwide, 84% of farms are categorised as smallholdings. Although the average farm size varies by country, most farms in low-and-middle-income countries cultivate less than 2 hectares of land (FAO, 2020). These smallholdings may be threatened, and often not ever recover, from disasters and conflict. Although the tools are available to predict climate change, the resulting natural disasters and occasionally the impact of conflict means the farmer requires economic power to prevent agricultural failure.
High upfront capital costs come with digitisation, obtaining new tools and fitting new technology, such as drip irrigation and variable rate spray machines. Based on the research “Improving Agricultural Risk Management in Sub-Saharan Africa: Remote Sensing for Index Insurance,” these five limitations of precision agriculture for smallholdings arose: land size to cost ratio, high initial capital costs, technology barriers, insufficient professional support and supporting policy. By combining remote sensing tools with citizen science, the needs of individuals can be remedied. Observing the area from above, solutions including collective agricultural zones across field boundaries and implementing regulatory policy were achieved.
The transformative potential of space technologies to advance the UN SDGs is significant. Each article in this series will delve deeper into how satellite data can specifically impact the effective monitoring and achievement of each individual SDG. As we harness the power of space technologies, their pivotal role in driving global sustainability efforts is set to become even more pronounced. Subscribe to the particular newsletter, ‘Space for United Nations Sustainable Development Goals’ to stay updated for more articles on this topic.
Read about our projects, with a focus on the SDGs
Water-ForCE – Clean Water and Sanitation (SDG 6)
Iliad Digital Twin of the Ocean – Life Below Water (SDG 14)
Nature FIRST – Life Below Water (14) & Life on Land (15)