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The Promise Of Remote Sensing Technology

If pundits say public policy must strike a balance between the pursuit of economic goals and protection of the environment, it is therefore a must to invest in technologies related to climate change.

Perhaps aside from the word “love” and terms like “developmental agenda,” the words “climate change” is already beginning to be one of the most abused terms in the English language. So much so that it is already starting to sound like a cliche in daily conversations. But the truth is, whether it’s abused or a cliché, we cannot escape the fact that the continuous changes in weather patterns is one thing that we all have to take seriously. We either do something about it or we perish. Complacency is not an option if we want to survive as members of the human race.

Centuries of abuse and neglect in our natural resources have already taken its toll in our dying planet. The recent aftermath of typhoons “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” which caused billions of pesos worth of damage to our agricultural sector is a concrete manifestation of this, not to mention the thousands of lives lost. We can develop new breeds of plants and animals, build roads and bridges, discover new farming methods and improve our food processing and marketing systems, but without addressing the issues of climate change, everything that we have worked on to improve our quality of life will go to naught. As mortals, we will always be at the mercy of Mother Nature.

If pundits say public policy must strike a balance between the pursuit of economic goals and protection of the environment and give priority to investments in all-weather rural roads, postharvest and storage facilities, communications systems and ports and airports, it should also consider a must to invest in technologies related to our changing and erratic weather patterns. Recently, we’ve been told that the Department of Agriculture (DA) has already set its eyes in investing in satellite imaging technology or remote sensing to help cope with climate change. It will definitely cost an arm and a leg, but the benefits will far outweigh the huge investment. In countries like Brazil and the US, the satellite imaging technology has been helping a lot in doing environmental assessments, mineral mapping and land cover mapping, wildlife habitat monitoring and general land management studies.

What was once used for military surveillance during World War II has evolved into something more useful and significant even in the areas of agriculture, fisheries, water resources and fisheries, wetlands and water sheds, climate activity and disaster and management response. We did some research in the internet and found that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently conducting research to determine the potential uses of remote sensing (both aerial and satellite) in their agricultural sector. An internet source reveals that “promising applications include measuring of leaf area indices (LAI – a quantitative indicator of leaf stress), identifying soil properties by their spectral signals, evaluating crop productivity, and providing a valuable data source for crop simulation models. A high-tech type of farming known as “precision agriculture,” uses satellite data to characterize specific sections of a field by certain variables (such as water or nutrient levels). Once the characteristics and geographic coordinates of the field section are in a computer, additions such as water, pesticides, and fertilizers can be efficiently controlled in response to the specific needs of each section thereby reducing the amount of pollutants introduced to the environment while producing healthier crops.”

A recent report from the National Geographic also cited how satellite imaging technology has helped Brazilian officials assess the alarming rise of deforestation inthe Amazon region. Through the technology, they have found that an estimated 7,000 square kilometers (2,700 square miles) of forests have experienced deforestation in just five months. The report said “the measures were announced after the Brazilian President called an emergency meeting of cabinet ministers to discuss new satellite image data that showed an apparent reversal of a three-year decline in deforestation.”

Our research further reveals that “remote sensing technologies can provide the government with the ability to avoid much of the damage caused by unforeseen natural disasters. While weather satellites have monitored hurricanes and tornados since the 196os, other satellite sensors, such as ETM+ and MODIS, have potential applications for disaster management and response. Scientists have used ETM+ data to monitor patterns in floods, droughts, beach erosion, and volcanic activity over time. MODIS and ASTER data can forecast severe weather with a great degree of reliability, potentially saving states millions of dollars in unnecessary evacuation and emergency response.”

While all of these things sound too highly technical and maybe not quite appropriate for third world applications, we do agree with the experts’ view that we should not close our eyes to adapting these technologies into our agricultural system. Years ago, a lot of us were hesitant to learn how to use the computers, or shift typing our research papers from the traditional typewriters to the modern Microsoft word programs. The same is true when we started using high-tech phones and other modern gadgets. Our fears and hesitations were normal. It’s something unknown, far from our comfort zones. Later on, we had no choice but to adapt to these modern changes. Perhaps the same argument holds true for these remote sensing technologies.

No doubt about it, these technologies will cost millions of dollars, not to mention the additional costs for training of staff who will operate these high-tech equipment, but if we go by the principles of cost efficiency, that in the long run, the huge investment will pay off a hundredfold, then we need not think much about our fears and jitters.

Of course some people will say it’s not a question of doubting the technologies, it’s a question of worrying about how this will be transferred and utilized properly, given our government’s track record of misuse of public funds. But that’s another story. Now that we are climbing the height of the burning election fever, the promise of remote sensing technology and what it can do to improve our agriculture situation is something that perhaps our next batch of government officials should study and take more seriously.