Across the world, Earth observations (EO) are used by industry and government to improve environmental, agricultural and community outcomes. In Africa, they have the potential to improve access to water, boost agricultural productivity and strengthen the EO industry.
In a report released today by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Unlocking the Potential of Earth Observation to address Africa’s critical challenges, it is estimated that EO data could contribute up to US$2 billion a year from 2024.
The report examines the economic potential of the Digital Earth Africa (DE Africa) programme, which provides a platform to help translate EO into freely accessible data. DE Africa is the world’s largest open data cube, encompassing a land area of over 30 million square kilometres. The programme provides valuable insights into a range of issues, from water and agriculture to urbanisation and deforestation.
This report marks the first of its kind to quantify the potential economic impact of the DE Africa platform which could be billions of dollars each year thanks to:
- A strengthened EO industry. Improved use of EO data could lead to an extra US$500 million in yearly EO data sales, along with new job opportunities and increased revenue.
- Boosted agricultural productivity. Better data could potentially be worth an extra US$900 million a year. Thanks to water savings and productivity gains for farmers, it could also contribute to reducing the use of pesticide.
- Better regulation of mining activity. Data allows countries to track unregulated mining, providing a potential savings of at least US$900 million from reduced environmental damage and fiscal evasion.
- While the potential economic benefit is itself hugely significant, the impact of the programme will bring forth more sustainable development that will improve the lives of Africans.
Dr Adam Lewis, Managing Director of the DE Africa Programme, comments on the findings of the report. He acknowledges the potential of the programme, which is made possible through collaboration with partner organisations.
“Through collaboration with key partners both within Africa and across the globe, we have made significant progress in turning this potential into a reality”, Dr Adam said.
“We are already seeing the benefits of EO in Africa. In Tanzania for example, the National Bureau of Statistics has been able to use the data to analyse water changes over time for Lake Sulunga [also known as Bahi Swamp], leading to better decisions for the populations living around the lake [on the border of Dodoma and Singida regions]”.
Benedict Mugambi, Head of Geographic Information System at the [Tanzanian] National Bureau of Statistics, said they have been monitoring the extent of Lake Sulunga water using DE Africa Water Observations from Space (WoFs) analysis-ready data service. The insights gained are helping to inform evidence-based policy decisions to support the communities living around the banks of the lake.
“Digital Earth Africa gives us the data and evidence to make better policies about how communities can use land and water for the best environmental and economic outcomes”, Mugambi said. “But to be fully effective, we must find a way to share the results with local people”.
The report was developed following extensive examination of the readiness of African countries to effectively and efficiently grow their geospatial capabilities, integrated with a careful study of the economic benefits of earth observation data adoption on specific sustainable development focus areas.