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Geospatial technology in rice crop mapping: paving the way for enhanced food security in Nepal

women in rice field
Photo by Bob Frewin on Unsplash

Over 60% of Nepal’s population works in agriculture. Much of this farming is in rice, a dietary staple in Nepali households. To support farming communities and food security, the government needs to know how much rice is being grown. This past year, Nepal’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MoALD) partnered with SERVIR to use innovative technology for a more accurate assessment of its rice area and production.

Nepal uses rice area and rice production data to determine the minimum support price (MSP) of rice each year. The MSP safeguards farmers by ensuring they receive a fair price, while also keeping rice affordable for consumers. The Nepali government also uses estimated rice production and the MSP to procure rice from farmers and build a strategic reserve in case of food shortages. Thus, mapping rice cultivation area is a critical component of federal efforts to protect farmer livelihoods and ensure food security.   

Hunger and food insecurity rates are high in Nepal. According to the UN World Food Programme, 14.6% of the country’s population does not consume an adequate diet.  Achieving the goal of ending hunger is a prerequisite for Nepal to make progress on other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), like quality education (SDG 4), good health and well-being (SDG 3), and gender equity (SDG 5).

The government of Nepal recognises that agricultural monitoring must be strengthened in order to address food security with timely policy and decision-making.  In response to this need, MoALD is working with SERVIR to leverage remote sensing to create more detailed maps of rice cultivation. 

This past fiscal year, MoALD used SERVIR remote sensing-based crop mapping support to create a more reliable estimate of rice production. Notably, this is the Ministry’s first use of Earth observation data for crop mapping. Through this effort, MoALD determined a remarkable 4.33% increase in national rice production: adding over 237,000 metric tons of rice that can be used to address food insecurity.

Collaboration with Nepal’s Ministry of Agriculture

Since 2019, SERVIR Hindu Kush-Himalaya, implemented by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), has collaborated with MoALD to use remote sensing and machine learning for food security assessments. MoALD is applying these technologies to generate rice maps in 21 districts within southern Nepal’s  Terai region, where most of the country’s rice is grown. Earlier, MoALD could only estimate rice cultivation on a district level. However, with the help of SERVIR’s tools, rice area maps can be produced on a municipal level. These more localised rice area maps enable more responsive and agile food security decision-making. 

MoALD is dedicated to strengthening the capacity of its staff by integrating these tools and technologies into existing food security assessments. ICIMOD provided training to MoALD officials on how to use geospatial and remote sensing data in crop mapping. Additionally, ICIMOD supported a series of knowledge-sharing workshops on using Earth observation data for crop area estimation.  

ICIMOD  introduced MoALD professionals to the  skills necessary to effectively use mobile applications like Geofairy for precise field data collection and Google Earth Engine for rice area estimation. The training empowers agriculture professionals to make informed crop-management decisions. Ultimately, the impact of this training extends to improving agricultural statistics, optimising resource management, and enhancing food security measures.  

MoALD Secretary Dr. Govinda Prasad Sharma noted that this collaboration with ICIMOD marks an important step towards generating more reliable food security data. 

“With ICIMOD’s support, we are enriching our data generation systems and laying a strong foundation for policy tools and planning.”

High-quality crop mapping bridges information needs among federal and subnational institutions and serves as a platform for consistent crop assessment and communications across the country. Despite being relatively new, this technology is already supporting community- and national-level agriculture management by providing reliable data. The joint effort has significantly impacted MoALD’s effort to implement new data-driven technologies that support food security and prosperity.