FAO and Google Advance Data Access for Sustainable Land and Forest Management
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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and Google have agreed that the initial focus of their three-year collaborative programme will be on building national capacity to undertake forest and food crop cover assessments.

Launched in December 2015, the partnership aims to make geospatial tracking and mapping products more accessible, assist countries in tackling climate change, and build the capacity of national experts to contribute to sustainable development planning.

fao_google15 April 2016: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and Google have agreed that the initial focus of their three-year collaborative programme will be on building national capacity to undertake forest and food crop cover assessments. Launched in December 2015, the partnership aims to make geospatial tracking and mapping products more accessible, assist countries in tackling climate change, and build the capacity of national experts to contribute to sustainable development planning.

Welcoming the intensification of the partnership at the close of a week-long project workshop in Rome, Italy, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva noted that FAO and Google are “ushering in an unprecedented level of environmental literacy.” He pointed to the project’s potential to produce more frequent and precise data on the environment and its changes that can contribute to improved understanding of the effects of climate change, more efficient food production and distribution, and improved monitoring of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Rebecca Moore, Director at Google Earth Outreach and Earth Engine noted that the partnership with FAO helps to bring Google’s products “into actual use,” offering a way for both partners to “each bring our unique strengths to make a change for future generations.”

FAO reports that the collaboration is already providing resource managers and researchers in many countries with tools to gauge changing land uses of individual field-sized plots, which “offers a quantum leap towards improved abilities to assess a landscape’s carbon storage capacity or plan a nation’s approach to greenhouse gas emissions.” Specific applications of the technology so far include the collection of data for the 2016 Global Drylands Assessment, tracking of desert locust outbreaks by the FAO’s Locust Control Unit, and forest cover monitoring in Costa Rica to enhance biodiversity protection.

While acknowledging that local knowledge and expertise remains important in “ground truthing” satellite imagery, FAO notes that the project “can boost the efficiency, quality, transparency, credibility, and above all the timeliness and efficacy of data collection and the validation of existing global mapping products.”

In addition to providing access to Landsat satellite images dating back to 1972, Google has recently added data delivered from Copernicus, the European earth monitoring system, which covers the same plot of land every five days, hence providing researchers with fast-moving real-time data on land use. [FAO Press Release] [UN News] [IISD RS Story on Launch of FAO-Google Partnership]

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