Observation Department Launched

This week, the Department of Land Management at the Polytechnic of Namibia launched its Earth Observation and Satellite Applications Research and Training Centre (EOSA-RTC). The satellite earth observation department could help boost food security in the country.

The centre's main objective will be to enhance the base of information from which farmers, government and researchers can draw upon. The data beamed to the centre will provide various resources for the agricultural industry, including providing information on ground vegetation, soil moisture, rainfall estimates and information on the timing, extent and frequency of veld fires.

According to the head of Land Management, Charl-Thom Bayer, the ultimate goal of the centre, aside from providing improved opportunities for students and teachers, is to provide interested parties in Namibia access to a wide variety of information that will boost agriculture. According to Bayer, the centre has been "technically operational" for the last month and the "basics are up and running". The centre, he said, will act as an "additional information base" to existing informational pools farmers and others use. The EOSA centre will download satellite imagery and data from a satellite positioned over Africa, which provides real-time recordings on "environmental variables to assess the actual conditions of natural resources".

For instance, Bayer explained that one of the goals of EOSA-RTC is to be able to calculate biomass, which could boost food security in the country. "Based on rainfall and grass coverage, you can calculate grass volumes, you can estimate how long the grass will last," he explained. Based on the data available, farmers could potentially increase livestock on their farms in a good year, or prevent overpopulating grazing areas before problems could arise.

As for fire services, Bayer explained that information collected from the satellite images and data will enable the centre to help government identify areas that require controlled fires. On the other hand, while large areas are usually plagued by a number of small fires, the real-time satellite imagery can assist firefighters to tackle a fire holistically, and not only one fire at a time. From the satellite data, researchers can make fairly accurate predictions of drought, Bayer said. This could give farmers indications as to when to plant, what crops will flourish and how the crops will grow. With "live weather data" the centre could assist in "estimating short-term drought cycles".

The satellite programme at the Polytechnic is part of a cooperation with the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Bayer said. To date the Polytechnic has not received financial support from government for the programme, but Bayer explained that the support is there and talks are progressing.