Earth observation data from satellites and drones promise support for hard-pressed farmers in Colombia who are seeking to improve the viability of the country’s agriculture.

  • 25
  • JUL
  • 2018

An ambitious collaboration project to harness space technology and bring sustainable productivity to rice and oil palm farmers in Colombia entered a crucial phase this month with the start of technical training workshops in Cali, the country’s second largest city and Pacific gateway.

Fewer than one in ten of Colombian farmers currently have access to technical assistance to help them to manage their land more efficiently at a time when the country sees agriculture as making a significant contribution to diversifying the country’s economy and reducing inequalities.

“Moreover, Colombia’s agriculture is subject to challenges from climate change,” says John Crawford, who heads the Integrated Solutions Lab at Rothamsted Research, which is leading the project. “So, productivity increases have also to be met against the threat of weather extremes.”

The new project, known as EcoProMIS (Ecological Production Management Information System), is designed to create a commercially viable solution for sustainable agriculture in Colombia by April 2021; a solution that is free to farmers and funded by industrial stakeholders.

EcoProMIS aims to combine space data with in-situ observations from smart sensors and to deliver that information to farmers in near real-time and in a way that enables them to increase productivity and minimise the environmental footprints of their oil palm and rice crops.

“Through outreach programmes, smallholders and land managers will develop their skills and understanding of how crop management affects productivity, income and ecosystems,” says Crawford. “Smartphones will communicate data and knowledge directly from and to farmers in the field.”

He adds: “The system will also allow risk to be better managed and monitored, making it easier to provide financial services, such as loans and insurance, in a country where the vast majority of farmers cannot access these services.”

oil palm colombia Credit: Rothamsted ResearchSpace technology and smart sensors will deliver near real-time data to farmers of palm oil and rice (top) in Colombia

The 38-month project is supported by a grant of £3.9M from UK Space Agency, under the second call of its International Partnership Programme. The IPP, a £152 million fund launched in 2015, uses UK organisations’ space knowledge, expertise and capability to provide a sustainable, economic or societal benefit to undeveloped nations and developing economies.

Eleven projects won support in this second round, IPP2, and join 22 existing projects. All IPP projects are match-funded, with consortium members and international partners providing further funding or contributions in kind.

“This exciting project in Colombia will help farmers to improve their land management to diversify the country’s economy and stabilise food supplies,” says Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of UK Space Agency. “Innovations from space, like Rothamsted’s EcoProMis, have the ability to expand skills and technology at home whilst bringing benefits abroad; I’m delighted to see this project progressing.”

Rothamsted signed the contract with UK Space Agency in February, and then appointed Agricompas, a data analytics company based in the UK, to jointly forge and manage a public-private partnership, which was established in mid-May.

While Rothamsted excels in project management and crop science, Agricompas is experienced in analysing data to develop services that support decision making, notes Roelof Kramer, the company’s chief executive.

At the end of the project, Agricompas will own all the resulting intellectual property that it will be able to commercialise in Colombia and elsewhere in the world: “Revenues, crucial for the system’s maintenance, will be generated from services to processors, financial institutions and governments,” says Kramer.

Rothamsted’s partners also include, from the UK, Elastacloud, for data science, and Pixalytics, for satellite earth observation; from Colombia, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Cenipalma and Fedearroz, for local agricultural knowledge; and Solidaridad, the international organisation behind the Fair Trade movement, for socio-economic expertise.

“We are very proud to bring public and private partners together in a holistic approach that improves crop productivity while it reduces environmental impact and improves socio-economic conditions of the stakeholders,” says Kramer.

About UK Space Agency
UK Space Agency are responsible for all strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme and provide a clear, single voice for UK space ambitions. At the heart of UK efforts to explore and benefit from space, we are responsible for ensuring that the UK retains and grows a strategic capability in space-based systems, technologies, science and applications. We lead the UK’s civil space programme in order to win sustainable economic growth, secure new scientific knowledge and provide benefit to all citizens. UK Space Agency is an executive agency, sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. For more information about UK Space Agency visit

About Agricompas
Agricompas, based in Oxford, is an international consulting and project management company experienced in agri-food systems.  The company uses satellite earth observation, in combination with complementary technologies and disciplines, to provide decision support services for agricultural value chains and wider ecosystem management.

About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
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About LAT
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.