Considerations for AI-EO for agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Catherine Nakalembe and Hannah Kerner 2023 Environ. Res. Lett. 18 041002.


Adapting to and mitigating climate change while addressing food insecurity are top priorities in SubSaharan Africa that require technologies to improve rural livelihoods with minimal environmental costs [1]. Artificial intelligence (AI) offers great promise for climate-smart solutions that improve food security outcomes. While precision agriculture is often the foremost use case for AI in agriculture (e.g. automation of farm equipment or nutrient application), precision agriculture is out of reach for most African farmers due to the required capital and infrastructure. AI solutions using satellite Earth observations (EOs), which we call AI-EO, are more accessible in the near term. EO enables agricultural analyses and insights at global scales, and many datasets are freely available, making EO-based solutions affordable [2]. AI-EO-derived products such as crop type maps and yield estimates are necessary to forecast food production surpluses or deficits, inform trade, and aid decisions. These products can support policies that accelerate the design and adoption of climate-smart agriculture and impact farmer livelihoods by increasing access to actionable early warning, risk financing or insurance [3], farm inputs, markets, and costreducing interventions [2, 4]. Despite their promise, AI-EO solutions for agriculture in Africa are still limited. Most techniques are not generalizable across heterogeneous landscapes. In this paper, we describe the principal sub-fields of research in AI-EO for agriculture in Africa and discuss examples and limitations of existing work. We also propose ten considerations for future work to help increase the impact of AI-EO research in Africa.