Agriculture is critical to the future of sustainable development. Globally the entire sector is being challenged to produce approximately 70% more food to feed 9 billion people by 2050. It has been acknowledged that most of this increase will need to come from greater land and water productivity as well as expansion of arable and irrigated areas. However, currently, agriculture consumes 70% of global freshwater, and emits about a quarter of all global greenhouse gases. Some of the current farming practices have negative consequences on water quality, and they impact biodiversity through land clearing and habitat fragmentation. Commodities production has been identified as one of the key causes of deforestation worldwide. Therefore the central question on the future of global sustainable development is how this vast increase in food and agriculture commodities supply can be achieved in a sustainable way. 

Since 2008 the European Space Agency (ESA) has worked closely with Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) and their Client States to harness the benefits of Earth Observation (EO) in global sustainable development. Earth Observation for Sustainable Development (EO4SD) is a new ESA initiative which aims at increasing the uptake of EO-based information in regular development operations at national and international level.


After three successful years, the EO4SD Agriculture and Rural Development cluster provides an overview of the project results. From 2016–2019, the EO4SD consortium demonstrated how EO-based information and services can support agricultural monitoring and management tasks. The initiative also worked on the ground with stakeholder’s to build capacity for them to use satellite imagery in their projects.

The following document outlines how the consortium implemented these state-of-the-art EO-based services in the context of the EO4SD initiative of the European Space Agency.

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Please feel free to get in touch with ESA Technical Officer: Anna Burzykowska - Anna.Burzykowska@esa.int or Project Lead: Remco Dost - Remco.Dost@eleaf.com if you would like further information about the EO4SD project and how you or your organisation can use EO-based services to your advantage.


EO4SD - Agriculture and Rural Development Cluster project - aims at demonstrating the benefits of EO-based geo-information products and services to support agricultural monitoring and management tasks: MDBs programmes and projects that deal with land degradation, soil erosion, food security and irrigation systems management.

Specifically, the main objective of the project is to demonstrate that the effectiveness of the MDB’s technical assistance interventions and financial investments in agriculture sector can be measurably enhanced by using EO-derived information to support:;

  • Large-scale crop area and type estimate (i.e. crop cover mapping and status assessment)
  • Irrigation and irrigation systems management (i.e. energy balance, water productivity and water stress)
  • Agriculture productivity assessment (i.e. yield estimation, ground water, precipitation monitoring)
  • Rural infrastructure investments planning and monitoring (i.e. households and transport networks mapping)
  • Land Degradation Assessment (i.e. land use, rainfall, soil moisture, precipitation, fAPAR, NDVI indicators)
  • Ecosystem services assessment (i.e. water quality assessment, nitrogen content, land surface properties)
  • Environmental Impact Assessment (i.e. landscape level classification and change mapping including fragmentation, and agriculture commodities production impact on deforestation) 


The portfolio provides a list of the state-of-the-art EO-based information services available to support agricultural monitoring and management. Please refer to the complete portfolio brochure to learn more about the services, their technical specifications and the application areas.

  • Multi-scale monitoring to assess agricultural production

    To feed the growing world population, food production must increase by an expected 70 percent. To minimize the human impact on the Earth’s natural resources and avoid land use triggered conflicts, the focus should be on increasing productivity in a sustainable manner. Satellite Earth Observation (EO) is a powerful technique for continuously assessing the status of agricultural production on a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. 

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  • Food security and agricultural risk management

    Organisations concerned with food security require timely information on predicted and actual crop production figures at different stages in time, to assess (for example) the market situation or act upon food scarcity events.

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  • Irrigation and irrigation systems management

    To enhance global food security it is essential to increase food production through the use of irrigation.

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  • Assessing land degradation and environmental conditions

    Satellite Earth Observation is a powerful technique for continuously assessing the status and changes of environmental conditions and ecosystem functions on a wide range of spatial and temporal scale. It provides long-term global data and can rapidly reveal where change has happened in a consistent and repeatable manner.

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  • Agriculture and ecosystem services

    The understanding of the environmental services that the agriculture sector can provide, such as absorbing carbon, managing watersheds, and preserving biodiversity is gaining momentum in development programmes implementation. Earth Observation data supports integrated ecosystem management by determining the spatial extent and condition of ecosystems, associated trends and changes over time.

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  • Rural infrastructure investments

    Sustainable rural development planning requires knowledge on the rural infrastructure assets and physical supply chain structures, such as the as the road network and other transport infrastructure, storage facilities, markets and irrigation schemes.

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  • Impact of agriculture commodity production on deforestation and ecosystem health and sustainability

    Commodity sectors (palm oil, soybean and beef) have an important role in food security, energy supply and economic development, but also have significant environmental and social impacts.

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  • Supporting environmental and social safeguards frameworks

    Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs), governments and public sector agencies have over time developed policies and frameworks (“safeguards”) to identify, avoid and minimise harmful and adverse effects on people and the environment, with a particular focus on preserving and strengthening the long-term sustainability of ecosystems. 

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Where we work

The EO4SD - Agriculture and Rural Development Cluster project aim is to develop and demonstrate the provision of customised agricultural information services to support the operations of the following MDBs and IFIs (international financing institutions): the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the World Bank Group (WBG), the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The preliminary list of case studies includes countries or regions in different continents: North Africa (Morocco), Africa (the Great Green Wall Initiative region, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, and Uganda), Latin America (Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay), Asia (Cambodia) and Middle East (Syria).

IDB, IFAD BoliviaIFAD ParaguayWorld Bank Group - Great Green InitiativeAsian Development BankMorocco


Project Consortium

The project is implemented by a consortium of specialist service providers in the European Earth Observation sector. The consortium integrates EO technical proficiency and a wide experience in developing geospatial operation services in the agriculture and rural domain: eLEAF (The Netherlands) (lead), DHI Gras (Denmark), GeoVille (Austria), University of Twente - ITC (The Netherlands), Satelligence (The Netherlands), Lahmeyer International (Germany), Nelen & Schuurmans (The Netherlands) and SpaceTec Partners (Belgium).

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