Fighting world hunger through Earth Observation and Artificial Intelligence

By Fiona Huang

In our quest to explore how Earth Observation (EO) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help people facing food insecurity, Φ-lab at the European Space Agency (ESA), together with the World Food Programme (WFP) Innovation Accelerator, launched the new EO & AI for SDGs Innovation Initiative.

© contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2014–20), processed by ESA/Norut–SEOM Insarap study, Planetek Rheticus Service/GEP, CNR-IREA & BRGM/ENVEO, CCI & FFG.

Earth Observation (EO) is the gathering of information about planet Earth’s physical, chemical and biological systems. It involves monitoring and assessing the status of, and changes in, the natural and man-made environment. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the ability of machines to mimic human intelligence or behaviours such as cognitive ability, memory, learning, problem solving and decision making. These combined technologies hold the potential to bring game-changing impacts in our work towards food security.

The open call for applications launched in late 2021 sought innovative solutions that apply EO and AI to fight world hunger, while striving for business viability and industry leadership. After a rigorous evaluation process, four start-up innovators were selected to join the initiative to develop their proposals with WFP stakeholders and ESA mentors. For the remainder of the year, these four teams will be testing their solutions in locations across the world in close collaboration with WFP Country Offices and technical support from ESA.

To learn more about the participating start-ups, check out below their approaches forusing EO and AI to tackle hunger:

  • agriBora (Germany)
Man looking at laptop screen. Photo from agriBora.

Kenya’s seven million smallholder farmers grow 70 percent of the food in the country, yet most are scattered throughout the territory and suffer from poor connectivity. Farmers face a range of complex, interconnected challenges that limit their ability to access funds to invest in agribusiness, high quality affordable inputs and preferred off-take markets for their harvest. agriBora aims to solve this challenge by building and managing an end-to-end full service, from weather prediction, inputs purchase, post-harvest off-taking, to savings plan around smallholder farmers, based on a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform. It also utilizes EO data to monitor crop growth in near-real time in Kenya to identify factors influencing crop stress and to send agro-weather advisories to smallholders. The data-rich platform brings farming inputs, financial services and trade markets closer to farmers in a way that makes the process more affordable, convenient and reliable for not only the farmers, but also their business partners, such as off-takers, input merchants, etc.

  • IBISA (Luxemburg)
Screenshot of rainfall protection. Photo from ibisa.

IBISA designs, distributes and operates climate insurance solutions for agriculture in a cost-efficient, scalable and innovative way. Changing weather patterns and extreme weather events are increasing, but 98 percent of agricultural fields in emerging economies are not insured against these risks, rendering farmers reliant solely on good rains to generate an income for their households. These risks not only affect the farmers and their families but the entire agri-ecosystem that includes credit providers, input merchants and food and beverage companies that source goods from farmers. IBISA works with insurers, reinsurers and other local and global partners to deliver end-to-end products and solutions. It uses EO data, blockchain and actuarial technologies to design products that are cost-efficient, transparent, and adapted to the needs of smallholder farmers and insurers.

  • OxEO (United-Kingdom)
Oxeo screenshot. Photo from Oxeo.

By 2030, 80 percent of irrigated cropland will be located in hydrological basins experiencing water stress. These same basins will also be home to an urban population of 2 billion people, where many people who access WFP assistance reside. OxEO combines EO and computational hydrology to provide short-, medium-, and long-term projections of surface water availability across hydrological basin networks. It aims to predict water stress so WFP can plan interventions to prevent a negative impact on people’s livelihoods.

  • RAMAMI (Netherlands)
Hand holding up a cellphone. Photo from RAMAMI

In many countries where WFP operates, an estimated 40 percent of food is lost at the post-harvest and processing stages. Poor infrastructure, processing and packaging, together with unrefrigerated transport and storage, can result in food waste. To solve this challenge, RAMAMI utilizes EO, crowd-based data sourcing and edge-AI to detect and communicate agricultural value chain shortcomings. Data points may include information on post-harvest losses, road conditions, delays and checkpoints, and the prices of agricultural commodities. The innovation enables farmers to better plan their harvest and logistics so that they can maximize their profit.

The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP staff, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support and WFP operations.

Find out more about us: innovation.wfp.org. Subscribe to our e-newsletter. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn and watch our videos on YouTube.

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Sourcing, supporting and scaling high-impact innovations to disrupt hunger.

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WFP Innovation Accelerator

WFP Innovation Accelerator

Sourcing, supporting and scaling high-impact innovations to disrupt hunger.

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