The interface of the FAO ‘Collect Earth’ application together with ‘Google Earth Engine’ to visualise the development of new crop fields in former grasslands along the Orange River in South Africa.
Photo: © Google Maps

Strategic alliance for better use of natural resources

Google Maps and FAO have agreed to work closely together to make geospatial tracking and mapping products more accessible, providing a high-technology assist to countries tackling climate change and much greater capacity to experts developing forest and land-use policies.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Google Maps have signed a three-year partnership. FAO states that it is designed to broaden access to easy-to-use digital tools, thus boosting the visibility and implementation of efforts to encourage sustainable environmental practices around the world.

The partnership foresees sharing knowledge and identifying needs that will broaden the kind of satellite data collected, widening the focus to monitoring drylands and agricultural crop productivity.
Monitoring forest cover and land-use change is destined to become increasingly important as countries around the world adopt measures to adapt to and mitigate climate change.


Concretely, Google Maps will provide 1,200 trusted tester credentials on ‘Google Earth Engine’ to FAO staff and partners, while also providing training and receiving feedback on users’ needs and experiences. 
With the help of ‘Google Earth Outreach’, the technology company's "Geo for Good" division, the Google Earth Engine has been made available through FAO's Open Foris Collect Earth tool. This tool should make it easy even for people without prior remote-sensing experience to track land-use patterns and their changes over time, and it is already being deployed in more than 30 countries.

FAO's Forest Assessment Management and Conservation Division has already trained hundreds of people around the world to use the tool in sample-based land cover assessments, the organisation says.
Basically, users can specify the kind of information they want to track, which is then sought among a vast set of remote sensing images of different resolutions, including a hefty archive of Landsat images dating back to 1972. Point-and-click methods allow users to zoom in on small areas and compare them to the same areas in the past.

While remote sensing data often needs to be accompanied by "ground truth" information obtained locally, the result allows for closer monitoring of variables ranging from tree cover to greenhouse gas emissions, FAO states.

More information:FAO