The challenge

Understanding Africa's natural resources

Africa is a continent with a rich and diverse environment, where people face many challenges such as ready access to drinking water and food insecurity. Countries' understanding of these challenges relates directly to how well they understand their natural resources, and see the human and climate impact on them. They need information on a wide range of issues from flooding, droughts and water availability to agriculture, land use and changes to human settlements in order to make decisions on the management and policies around these issues.

For decades, Africa's land surface and coastline has been continually imaged by satellites, recording a wide range of information about land and water resources. But the petabytes of data are challenging to enquire, scale up and down, compute and analyse, and while freely available, it is not in an easy format to consume and translate. Data infrastructure, storage, processing and analytic capabilities have caused barriers to access and use of Earth observation (EO) across the African continent.

The Australian Government is leading the establishment of Digital Earth Africa (DE Africa), an operational African-owned platform to translate the acquired data into decision-ready information.

Our response

Digital Earth Africa

To unlock this data, Geoscience Australia is leading the establishment of Digital Earth Africa, an initiative funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. Digital Earth Africa is translating the data into a ready to use format, and making it available for anyone to use. The platform includes the DE Africa map developed by CSIRO's Data61, which allows users to visualise and analyse changes across land and water anywhere across the continent, democratising the capacity to use EO for decision making.

Through what is known as the Open Data Cube, first operationalised in Australia by Geoscience Australia, Digital Earth Africa use global satellite data specific to Africa and processes it, so that it is more accessible and suitable for as many users as possible. The platform is free and open, and allows a platform whereby algorithms can be rapidly applied to generate products.

Partnerships are essential to deliver the program, amplify the benefits and ensure ongoing stability. Digital Earth Africa is working with governments, space agencies, private sector and civil society across Africa and internationally: Digital Africa - Our community .

Digital Earth Africa is a three-year establishment program currently in its second year. Through the establishment phase, the technical infrastructure and data products are being developed, a governance structure and institutional arrangements are being established, and a capacity development program will be rolled out. An ecosystem of governments and policy makers, private business, science and research, non-government organisations and civil society will all have readily available EO insights to address social, environmental and economic changes across the continent.

DE Africa false colours

A false-colour image from Europe’s Sentinel-2 satellite of the Betsiboka Estuary in Madagascar

More images are available onFlckr - Digital Earth Africa

The results

Providing vital information for informed strategic and inclusive decision-making

With a land area of over 30 million square kilometres, Digital Earth Africa will be the world's largest open data cube. It will provide African countries a consistent dataset across the continent to measure and compare. By making the data available in an analysis-ready format, the barrier to accessing open and free analysis-ready EO data is lowered, and addressing Africa's critical development challenges can be achieved.

Digital Earth Africa will also become an operational and analytical capability of Africa, with in-country expertise in data analysis, use and management. It is demand-driven and developed based on African priorities.

Access to this data will provide vital information for informed strategic and inclusive decision-making. In particular, the use of EO within Africa will be directly relevant to the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2 (zero hunger), 6 (clean water and sanitation), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 13 (climate action), 14 (life below water) and 15 (live on land).  For example, farmers can monitor their crop growth to improve production and identify potential food shortages early, communities can find usable water sources, and city planners can track land settlement to understand where urbanisation is occurring. It will also drive growth for the African economy by enabling small businesses and industry to innovate and create new products, and increase profitability and productivity in sectors such as land and city planning, agriculture and mineral exploration.

DE Africa Map

The Digital Earth Africa Map portal developed by CSIRO’s Data61

The State University of Zanzibar is using Digital Earth Africa to make data-driven decisions on conserving the biodiversity of mangroves in Zanzibar: Time series for nature: Preserving mangroves in Zanzibar .

National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) Tanzania is using Digital Earth Africa to monitor the effects of drought in Lake Salunga: Using satellite data to combat drought: Monitoring Lake Sulunga, Tanzania .

Digital Earth Africa is currently working with a number of African institutions to develop use cases such as illegal mining in Ghana, coastal conservation in Senegal and the water extent of Lake Victoria. CSIRO's Data61 will continue to support the development of DE Africa map, ensuring that it meets the needs of users and value that Digital Earth Africa brings to Africa can be well demonstrated.

Digital Earth Africa is leveraging existing expertise through partner organisations for country level user engagement and outreach, support of science and applications development and capacity development across the continent so that additional funders, users, governments and industry are attracted to the platform and it becomes an indispensable tool.

Further information:

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