Use Cases
Use cases will integrate Earth observation into new, ongoing or completed impact evaluations. We seek partners engaged in these evaluations who are interested in adding Earth observation to make these evaluations more powerful.
Share a USE CASE idea
Caption: This satellite image from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission shows Lusaka – the capital and largest city of Zambia. Lusaka National Park is the brown patch of land southeast of the city. The 6700 hectare park hosts a variety of rare and endangered animals. The clusters of light green circles near the national park are an example of pivot irrigation. This type of irrigation functions where equipment rotates around a central pivot and crops are fed with water from the centre of the arc. Earth observation can help monitor changes in urban expansion, land-cover change and agriculture monitoring. The mission’s frequent revisits over the same area and high spatial resolution also allow changes in inland water bodies to be closely monitored. This image, which was captured on 29 July 2019, is also featured on the Earth from Space programme. Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO .

Rapid Impact Use Cases

Reducing Environmental Risks through Productive Activities in Nepal

  • Geography: Southwestern Nepal
  • Partnership: Mercy Corps

As communities in the developing world face more frequent and severe environmental risks, many efforts to mitigate damages and build resilience fall prey to collective action challenges. We propose studying the effectiveness of one innovative approach that promotes productive agricultural activities as well as preventing soil erosion and combating severe flooding risks. Over the past decade, Mercy Corps’ Managing Risk through Economic Development (M-RED) program has encouraged farmers to plant water-intensive crops along riverbanks in Western Nepal’s plains and middle hills. Existing evaluation work has shown promising gains among participant communities, but the program’s broader environmental and watershed impacts have not yet been assessed. Our multidisciplinary team will use remote sensing and variation in recent weather shocks to assess M-RED’s impacts on adoption of key crops, as well as on soil erosion and flooding. Our research will assess the magnitude of cross-village spillovers in both geophysical and social diffusion terms, as downstream communities benefit from reduced silt and turbidity from upstream erosion, and nearby untreated communities see take-up of the promoted crops.

Extending the Evaluation of Water-conserving Land Preparation

  • Geography: Niger
  • Partnership: Kelsey Jack, Environmental and Development Economics, University of California, Santa Barbara; Jenny Aker, Tufts University; and Niger Ministry of Environment

Rainwater harvesting (RWH) techniques, which capture rainfall and reduce runoff, present a compelling option in settings where irrigation is technically unfeasible and chemical input use is limited. Aker and Jack’s recent study examines the adoption of RWH using a randomized control trial in Niger, in which the authors test the importance of the time profile of returns, as well as credit and liquidity
constraints, to the adoption of RWH. The authors find that providing farmers with training increases the share of adopters by over 90 percentage points, whereas adding conditional or unconditional cash transfers has no additional effect. Adoption increases agricultural output, reduces land turnover, and leads to adoption spillovers up to three years after treatment. To extend the completed work, we plan to add remotely sensed data that will extend the time period over which adoption is observed, as well as expand the sample to cover new adoption that may occur as the Min. of Environment scales up the intervention nationally. We will build on recent efforts to develop three remote sensing measures, helping to overcome recent challenges. First, detecting adoption outcomes (i.e., demi-lune – half moon) based on visual detection with free or inexpensive imagery is a challenge. Second, the farmer selects where to construct demi-lunes, typically focusing on the most degraded land. How to estimate soil quality is a challenge. Third, the time of year when some visual indications of adoption (such as rainwater collecting in the demi-lunes) are most obvious is also most susceptible to cloud cover. We plan to utilize Sentinel (preferably SAR – Synthetic Aperture Radar) + PlanetScope along with SkySat data to detect demi-lunes, quantify soil properties, and agriculture production.

Observing Adoption of Water Conservation in Irrigated Rice Farming

  • Geography: Bangladesh
  • Partnership: Kyle Emerick, Associate Professor of Economics at Tufts University, and International Rice Research Institute

Emerick and coauthors from Tufts and IRRI designed and implemented a randomized control trial to study the distribution of benefits from subsidizing a water-saving technology known as Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD). The technology is a perforated plastic pipe planted into the rice field to plan irrigation based on crop-water needs. Using a randomized controlled trial across 360 villages in Bangladesh, authors show that subsidies for adoption of the technology reduce electricity used for pumping by 38 percent, but only when targeted to water sellers. However, the evaluation only looked at a proxy of adoption (i.e., aggregate pump electricity use). Existing measures of AWD adoption do not exist. We plan to utilize Earth Observation imagery and products to examine whether wetting and drying adoption could be feasible with imagery from Sentinel, PlanetScope, or tasked SkySat sensors.

Action Against Desertification Land Restoration Activities

  • Geography: Nigeria
  • Partnership: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Increasing desertification across Africa driven by climate change, land use, and related factors presents a growing threat to communities who are dependent upon the land for their livelihoods. Initiatives such as the Great Green Wall in the Sahara and Sahel have been created to combat desertification, reduce poverty, and improve resilience to climate change in the region. From 2016 until 2020, the FAO’s Action Against Desertification (AAD) programme supported the ambitions of the GGW in six countries of the Sahel, including in Northern Nigeria. In 2021, following completion of AAD activities, the FAO conducted an ex-post quasi-experimental evaluation of the project’s activities and socio-economic outcomes using a combination of ground data collection, geospatial data, and machine learning. The use of remote sensing and earth observation to evaluate project outcomes is particularly valuable in areas like Northern Nigeria, where conflict and instability can limit ground-based data collection such as household surveys. In this rapid use case, we aim to expand the use of geospatial data, including high resolution imagery, to explore whether we can A) validate and enhance the methods used in the initial analysis, B) expand estimates of socio-economic impacts to areas beyond those in the initial analysis, and C) identify ways that remote sensing can be used to effectively measure the socio-economic impacts of AAD’s successor program - the GCF-funded SURAGGWA, beginning in 2023 - to inform the program’s activities.

Earth observation for agriculture impact evaluation

Seeking partners for use cases to highlight:

Expanded range of outcomes
Extending Earth observation work to reflect a broader suite of impact evaluation outcomes, including soil management, erosion control, irrigation and water management, livestock, and other practices
More periodic assessments
Earth observation offers cost-effective options to create time-series data for tracking the longer tails of impacts (as well as providing historic data).
Directly observe changing conditions
Earth observation provides a comprehensive, synoptic, and multi-temporal coverage of large areas at regular intervals to better estimate impacts and climate adaptation
Accelerate the pace of innovations
As the burgeoning availability and rapidly improving quality of Earth observation data spurs new methods and learning in the agriculture and climate impact evaluation sector.
Evaluate difficult to survey contexts
Earth observation can provide eyes in the sky when (surveyors’) boots can’t be on the ground (e.g., conflict zones, extremely remote communities, disaster-affected areas, in global health crises like the recent pandemic)
Overcome gender bias in survey measurements
Earth observation can power more statistically robust gender disaggregation, which might otherwise be limited by survey sample sizes or gender-related biases in survey-related measurements.
Seeking Ideas and Examples

What is needed in order to make it easier to do impact evaluations of climate sensitive agricultural projects with Earth observation?

Caption:  A part of the White Nile state in Sudan is featured in this false-color image captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, captured on 25 August 2021, Information from the near-infrared channel shows vegetation in tones of red. This band combination is routinely used to monitor vegetation health. Although the area lies within an arid climatic region, low vegetation covering the valley floors between the sand dunes can be seen in bright shades of red. Many agricultural plots can also be seen in red, particularly in the far-right and far-bottom of the image. Owing to seasonal rainfall, many ephemeral bodies of water can be spotted in shades of turquoise and blue in the image. Copernicus Sentinel-2  has two satellites, each carrying a high-resolution camera that images Earth’s surface in 13 spectral bands. The type of band combination from Copernicus Sentinel-2 used to process this image is commonly utilised to assess plant density and health, as plants reflect near-infrared and green light, while absorbing red. Since they reflect more near-infrared than green, dense, plant-covered land appears in bright red. This image, which was captured on 25 August 2021, is also featured on the Earth from Space programme. Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2021), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO .
Join a community of practice
We will soon begin outreach for communities of practice. We hope that these become a space for impact evaluators, remote sensing experts, and field organizations to brainstorm and problem solve about how Earth observation can lead to program insights that solve real world, long-running challenges of climate adaptation and agricultural development.
Upcoming events
Geospatial Earth Observation For Impact Evaluation Learning and Development