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Major Alcis maize mapping and sustainable water use project in Afghanistan

NEWS: Alcis signs up to SPRINT to collaborate with University of Surrey

Access to the University of Surrey’s data processing expertise supported by national SPRINT business support programme

Surrey-based Alcis, a leading Geographic Information Services company, has signed up to the national SPRINT business support programme for a maize mapping and sustainable water use project in Afghanistan. SPRINT will provide Alcis with access to geospatial data processing expertise from the University of Surrey, enabling the analysis of satellite images that will improve the understanding of agricultural cycles and practices in rural Afghanistan.

The SPRINT project will develop a method for mapping maize crops in Afghanistan in past crop cycles, without the need for ground truth data, using ESA’s Sentinel 1 and 2 imagery, and knowledge of the nature of maize growth and climate variables. The project will also develop a new spatial product, derived from globally available Earth Observation data, that will inform on the climate change impacts on water resources in Afghanistan, the water consumed by changing agricultural practices and the sustainability of this consumption in the context of climate change.

Using remotely sensed satellite data, the project will develop signatures for the maize crop based on its phenology and the local meteorological measurements. These signatures will be used to identify this crop at scale across the north of Afghanistan. Following successful trials, the project will then seek to develop this data across the entire country.

The project will be funded by a grant from the £4.8 million SPRINT (SPace Research and Innovation Network for Technology) programme that provides unprecedented access to university space expertise and facilities. SPRINT helps businesses through the commercial exploitation of space data and technologies.

Tim Buckley, Chief Operating Officer at Alcis said: “Alcis’ clients work in fragile, conflict-affected areas, including rural Afghanistan, where getting good quality data is a major challenge. Our driving force is using cutting-edge technology for community-based applications to change people’s lives for the better. Longer-term, we’re expanding our offerings with other crops in other countries, increasing our footprint geographically, and we believe that this SPRINT project will be a springboard into new markets for us.

“The University of Surrey has such a strong reputation for space research, with a rigorous approach to data analysis and a willingness to experiment. The knowledge, information and theory that is the bedrock of academia can be of vital use in real-world applications, particularly in the space sector. Our relationship with Surrey will enable us to accelerate and develop our processes to make them even more efficient.”

Belen Marti-Cardona, Associate Professor in Earth Observation and Hydrology at the University of Surrey added: “We have consolidated experience of projects exploring the sustainability of water resources in the context of climate change and expanding farmlands in developing countries. While the Afghan environment poses some new challenges, we share in Alcis’ excitement and their vision to tackle them through data analysis.

“We bring expertise in the synergistic combination of different Earth observation data types and crop phenology to create new information on food production and water resources use. Our big data processing capabilities allow for the regional upscaling of our analysis. Alcis knows how to use this information to inform decision making and have a real-world impact.”

Find out more about the work of Alcis here