In future, a smartphone app is to help mitigate the effects of drought.

In future, a smartphone app is to help mitigate the effects of drought.
Photo: © TU Wien / Tomaso Castalazo

Smartphone app to monitor food security

With a mobile data collection app and satellite data, scientists will be able to predict whether a given region is vulnerable to food shortages and malnutrition.

Scientists from TU Wien in Vienna, Austria and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria have developed a new way to monitor food security, as they reported in November 2015.

The scientists developed a smartphone app called SATIDA COLLECT. This app combines weather and soil moisture data from satellites with crowd-sourced data on the vulnerability of the population, e.g. malnutrition and other relevant socio-economic data.

The method has now been tested in the Central African Republic. There are different possible causes for famine and malnutrition—not all of which are easy to foresee. Drought and crop failure can often be predicted by monitoring the weather and measuring soil moisture. But other risk factors, such as socio-economic problems or violent conflicts, can endanger food security too.

Satellite data and interviews to monitor food security

By scanning the Earth’s surface with microwave beams, researchers can measure the water content in soil. Comparing these measurements with extensive data sets obtained over the last few decades, it is possible to calculate whether the soil is sufficiently moist or whether there is danger of droughts.

The researchers also collected data, conducting hundreds of interviews. How often do people eat? What are the current rates of malnutrition? Have any family members left the region recently, has anybody died? – The answers to these questions are used to statistically determine whether the region is in danger.

The digital questionnaire of SATIDA COLLECT can be adapted to local eating habits, as the answers and the GPS coordinates of every assessment are stored locally on the phone. When an internet connection is available, the collected data are uploaded to a server and can be analysed along with satellite-derived information about drought risk. In the end, a map could be created highlighting areas where the danger of malnutrition is high.

Results of the tests in the Central African Republic have been published in the journal PLOS ONE: Food Security Monitoring via Mobile Data Collection and Remote Sensing: Results from the Central African Republic


(TU Wien/ile)