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SIGMA Report Summary

Project ID: 603719
Funded under: FP7-ENVIRONMENT
Country: Belgium

Periodic Report Summary 2 - SIGMA (Stimulating Innovation for Global Monitoring of Agriculture and its Impact on the Environment in support of GEOGLAM (SIGMA))

Project Context and Objectives:
SIGMA as part of Europe’s contribution to GEOGLAM, actively networks with expert organizations world-wide, in a common effort to enhance current remote sensing based agricultural monitoring techniques. Its aim is to develop innovative methods and indicators to monitor and assess progress towards “sustainable agriculture”, focused on the assessment of longer term impact of agricultural dynamics on the environment and vice versa.
SIGMA implements activities in Europe, Russia, Ukraine, China, Vietnam, Africa, Argentina and Brazil and is financed through the EC’s Research Framework programme (FP7).
• SIGMA develops remote sensing based methods to identify, map and assess:
• Agriculture and crop land changes, globally, regionally and locally
• Changes in agricultural production levels and shifts in cultivation practices
• Environmental impacts of Agriculture
SIGMA deploys capacity building and data management activities on the above topics.
The overall objective of SIGMA is to develop methods and products that will increase the capacities for global agricultural monitoring.
As such the project is broken down into five main objectives:
Objective 1: Identify, map and assess agriculture and crop land changes, globally, regionally and locally (shifts in agriculture including expansion and shrinking of areas)
• Throughout this reporting period the focus of the research was on the development of global crop land maps, a first study on available cropland maps was finalised and techniques and methodologies on crop land mapping were developed and tested over different test sites (JECAM collaboration) and operationally tested over a full country (South Africa)
• The implementation at global scale will rely on the GAES as an input layer. GAES is ready and is being used. In the next and final phase of SIGMA the global product will be made operational.
• Tools for area frame sampling are under construction and land cover changes and agricultural statistics were analysed over different countries.
Objective 2: Identify, map and assess changes in agricultural production levels and shifts in cultivation practises (agricultural intensification)
• Trends analysis of shifts in phenological paramters and soil moisture parameters were analysed and compared with meteorological based parameters to try to distinguish between climate and other drivers of agricultural change. The results of this work is presented during the AGU meeting in San Francisco in December 2016.
• Yield estimation actual and potential are being analysed and compared over different SIGMA sites (collaboration with JECAM). Yield models and remote sensing based estimated are used to assess the potential for agricultural intesifcation.
Objective 3: Identify, map and analyze environmental impacts of Agriculture and cultivation practices
• Environmental modelling has been implemented at the diferent SIGMA sites dedicated to specific environmental problems that occur in the region. Feedback and results from these local models are than fed in the global models for feedback and validation.
• Global models have been calibrated and results are produced and analysed.

Objective 4: Ensure data interoperability and accessibility of the data to the GEOSS Data-CORE to support the development of a global system of systems for crop monitoring
• SIGMA geoportal is available and data is being added. The validation (GEOWIKI) tool has been intensively used (global validation effort) and the analysis tools; time series viewer and VEGA GEOGLAM have been updated throughout this reporting period.
Objective 5: Increase “Agro-environmental” monitoring capacity and awareness at the global, regional and local level and identify data and knowledge gaps
• The first regional training session and several national and WP related training sessions have been organised throughout this period.
• Results from the above mentioned research objectives were published, presented in a number of international papers, research for a, workshops and conferences.
Through these 5 objectives SIGMA intends to contribute to the establishment of a global observation system for the assessment of the impact of cropland areas and change on the environment and as such strengthen global agricultural monitoring by improving the use of Earth Observation for crop production projections.

Project Results:
Highlights for this reporting period.
WP2 Data Coordination
SIGMA’s data management system consists of 3 components: a Product Distribution Facility (PDF), a Product Analysis Facility (PAF) and a Product Evaluation Facility (PEF).

The PDF facilitates access to the datasets used in the projects as well as the project-specific output. The PDF is accessible through and is being populated as datasets become available through the project.
The PAF ( allows to analyze datasets which are routinely acquired and ingested in the system. For all SIGMA sites, the Deimos, Sentinel 2 , Landsat and Modis data are available and used for detailed analysis at field and local level.

Tools available in the system; cartographic web interface, upload tool for field data, NDVI time-series charts for the user defined objects, image enhancement tools for the visual analysis, image classification tools for land use mapping - the available SIGMA/JECAM in-situ data can be used as training samples, image algebra tools for vegetation indices calculation or execution map algebra expressions, data import/export tools.
The PEF is based upon IIASA’s Geo-WIKI standards and allows to engage a large crowd to look, evaluate and assess the SIGMA and other products. During this reporting period it was used for global validation.
Global Validation Campaign 2016
As preparation for the SIGMA global products it was decided during the second Annual meeting of SIGMA that a validation data set was crucial. As such an approach was developed to secure this data set. On the one hand side an online tool for expert validation dedicated for SIGMA experts was developed.
Based on this tool 4000 point were analysed and introduced in the validation data set. On the other hand side a geowiki study was launched to collect and analyse another more 35000 points. The points and results are currently being analysed.
STAC database
Throughout SIGMA and other Global projects like GyGA and the JECAM community it became clear that data management for all collected in situ data sets is difficult and crucial. For this reason the AGRO-STAC initiative was started. In-situ crop data of Ukraine, China, Burkina Faso, and some other initiatives (EU-FP7 MOCCCASIN, EU-FP7 AGRICAB, open data journal, AGMIP-AgTrials) were loaded in the AGRO-STAC database and documented in a WIKI. VITO developed a viewer to explore and select in-situ data.

WP3 land Cover and Crop land Assessment
The Global Agro-Environmental Stratification (GAESv01a) is ready and distributed within and outside SIGMA. The database (version 01a) is a newly developed Global Agro-Environmental Stratification that has been designed to support the production of a global cropland mask. The GAES database has 4 hierarchical layers with 92 attributes. GAES level one has 194 agro-environmental (AE) types (818 agro-environmental strata); GAES level two has 300 AE types (1688 strata); GAES level three has 374 AE types (2087 strata); GAES level four has 516 agro-environmental AE types (3208 strata).

Another important result in the crop land mapping component is de upscaling of the in the previous period developed global methodlogy. This was done for the high resolution mapping in South Africa
WP 4 SIGMA Crop Monitoring & Yield Estimation
One of the specific research goals in SIGMA is the trend analysis based on the extended time series of EO data. A comparison between Phenology parameters like start and end of season or peak and duration of season with meteo data was done to detect areas were changes in agricultural might not be explained by purely climatological changes. Results of this study are presented during the 2016 AGU meeting in San Franciso, USA.

Potential Yield Calculation
For the SIGMA sites in Argentina, China, Ukraine and Burkina Faso, the crop model was selected and crop growth models are being used to calculate potential yields for these different sites. These calculations will then later be compared with actual yields to identify the yield gap at the sites.
WP5: Environmental Impact Assessment of Agricultural land use change
The environmental Impact Analysis assessment at SIGMA sites is finalised and results were published in the final SIGMA report.
EPIC and GLOBIOM model runs are being done and feedback is being collected.
WP6: Capacity Building
All results and outcome of the different Wp’s is currently being transferred into e-learning material or class room material. This material will be used during the SIGMA regional and global workshops. The first Regional and Global workshop were hoasted during this reporting period.
WP7: Outreach
SIGMA partners have been presenting their work in a number of international, regional and national workshops and scientific meetings. Awareness presentation for a non scientific audience have also been made (e.g Euronews Interview).
JECAM and SIGMA: a close connection
JECAM – the Joint Experiment on Crop Area Monitoring – intends to reach a convergence of approaches, develop monitoring and reporting protocols and best practices for a variety of global agricultural systems. SIGMA and JECAM cooperate closely through overlap in in situ sites, joint research topics and research experiments. During the joint annual meetings JECAM and SIGMA experts discuss and evaluate methodologies to be tested over different sites in order to support the progress of global agricultural monitoring.
Examples of these cross site experiment are the ongoing; SIGMA Crop mapping, the crop yield forecasting, trend analysis experiments and the newly defined, small field mapping and the data integration of optical and SAR data experiments.

Potential Impact:
The topic ENV.2013.6.2-6 Improved monitoring of the impact of cultivation on the environment using global Earth Observations requires:

• A significant contribution is made to the G20 GEOGLAM initiative, reinforcing the awareness of decision and policy makers about the impact of agriculture on the global environment
• Networking of agricultural and environmental monitoring and research organizations
• Capacity building directed at a sustainable agricultural environment and enabling the prediction of the impact of crop production on natural resources and ecosystems
• Improved transparency of agricultural crop production and international coordination for risk-management capacity
• European leadership for an initial global agricultural land monitoring system based on both satellite and in-situ observations

In summary, SIGMA activities are designed to address these requirements through:

• The establishment of an international partnership, with active members of the GEO Agricultural Community of Practice and stakeholders of the G20 GEO-GLAM initiative, and the foreseen establishment of an advisory committee
• Establishing a network of globally distributed research and monitoring organizations in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and North America with a particular and well-known expertise in Environment and Agriculture
• Implementation of specific capacity building and awareness activities for the agricultural monitoring community at large
• Research activities, designed to strengthen international risk-management capacity and improve transparency on agricultural crop production; research activities are designed for:
o enabling the mapping of crop land and crop land statistics as well its changes over time
o enabling the mapping of agricultural systems, shifts in cultivation practices and room for intensification of productivity
o assessing impact of agriculture on the environment, both due to intensification as expansion
• Development and exploitation of an integrated, OGC compliant data and information portal combining both satellite and in situ data to enable data access for the agricultural monitoring stakeholders community and the use of the Geonetcast infrastructure and to provide this data to the GEOSS DATA CORE.

In specific, SIGMA intends to contribute to the expected impacts in the work programme, through:

Contribution to the GEOGLAM Work Programme

The goal of the GEOGLAM Initiative is to strengthen the international community’s capacity to produce and disseminate relevant, timely and accurate forecasts of agricultural production at national, regional and global scales through the use of Earth Observations (GEO, 2012). The GEO Workplan elaborates on 6 different components being: 1/ enhancing global agricultural production monitoring systems; 2/ building capacity at national level to utilize Earth observations; 3/ supporting the monitoring of countries at risk to improve food security; 4/ improving the coordination Earth Observations; 5/ coordinating research and development (R&D); 6/ disseminating data, products, and information.

SIGMA aims to contribute mainly to component 5, related to the coordination of R&D efforts to improve currently used methods for agricultural monitoring, component 2, activity 2-4: Stimulate and coordinate research development and experimentation to improve methods for the use of Earth Observation to support agricultural monitoring and component 1, Activity 1-1: enhancement of the current global crop monitoring systems. Through WP 2 on the SIGMA Data Management Facility also contributions are given to Component 4 (Activity 4-3 on GEONETCAST and dissemination) and Component 6 (through the GEONETCAST Workshops and the Distribution Facility).

Contribution to Component 1: SIGMA aims to contribute to the building of global geo-datasets for arable land, crop maps/masks, crop calendars, crop management, improved crop models (local calibration and assimilation of EO-data) and soil moisture (WP 3, WP 4); it specifically will focus on Integrating new Earth observations and Earth Observation-based indicators and regular monitoring of significant agricultural land use changes (WP 3). Specifically the SIGMA outputs from WP 3.1 (Stratification maps and datasets), WP 3.2 (Crop masks), WP 3.3 (land cover statistics database), WP 4.1 (time series and indicators) will strengthen component 1.

Contribution to Component 2: SIGMA aims to carry out collaborative studies between globally distributed partners to develop methods for crop monitoring, new satellite sensors and various crop production systems. The JECAM study sites are thereby used as a starting point, extended with other study sites, covering various agro-ecosystems (WP 3, 4, 5). WP 6 will specifically focus on the development of training programmes, tools and toolkits. WP 6 will further contribute to Component 6, activity 6-4 on training activities for data use through the planned GEONETCAST training packages and workshops.

Contribution to Component 5: SIGMA’s cross-cuttings approach including global, regional, national and local activities, aims to directly contribute to future enhancements of operational agricultural monitoring systems. Firstly, SIGMA activities aim to create a better understanding of agricultural practices at local and national scale in relation to the needed satellite and in situ observations. Secondly, specific studies will be conducted on how existing monitoring methods can be improved using regularly updated crop masks, innovations in crop modeling using EO-data, actual yield maps, SAR data and environmental parameters. WP 2 will ensure data coordination to support the research activities.

ENV. 2013.6.2-6 addresses two main topics, one related to the GEOGLAM directly (prediction & forecasts), the other one focused on environmental impact assessments of agriculture. While this can build a strong case and significantly strengthen Global Agricultural Monitoring, the connection between agriculture and environment remains challenging and risks not be mutually reinforcing. To that effect SIGMA needs to remain targeted and focused to ensure the required impacts of ENV.2013.6.2-6 are achieved. SIGMA will need to be closely linked to both communities, which is likely to be ensured through the proposed advisory committee and the participation of the GEO Agricultural Community of Practice partners in the project.

Lastly, SIGMA aims to ensure alignment with the G20 GEO-GLAM initiative, through JRC, IRSA and FAO.

Networking of agricultural and environmental monitoring and research organizations

SIGMA presents a partnership of 24 partners in agricultural and environment research and monitoring. By inter-twining the various activities a common goal is set for all partners, studying similar issues in various areas in the world. Through the various project meetings, workshops and training sessions the network will be strengthened facilitating interaction and information / expertise sharing. Each of the consortium partners are well-known in their domain and area, and on their own have a large network which can potentially be engaged in the SIGMA activities (eg. Some of the consortium partners rely on local / national organizations to carry out the work plan, the regional organizations in Africa intend to spread knowledge and expertise to their member states through the training sessions, FAO/IFPRI have many local offices through which the experience of the project can be shared – see also the WP 7 description).

Capacity building

SIGMA includes a dedicated work package on capacity building (WP 6), where specific capacity building activities are planned, mostly in developing countries. However, capacity building in SIGMA is seen in sensu largo, whereby collaboration between partners, sharing expertise and knowledge on ground-based issues is considered one of the main benefits and results. In addition, current operational agricultural monitoring systems, mostly focus solely on agricultural production of the ongoing growing season and provide little information on the environmental impact and consequences. The overall goal of the project is to directly develop methods to enable the prediction of the impact of crop production on natural resources and ecosystems through the design and interactions of the WP’s 3,4 and 5, as such directly contribution to the expected impact of ENV.2013.6.2-6

Improved transparency and international coordination for risk-management capacity

Improved transparency of agricultural crop production and international coordination for risk-management capacity are some of the main challenges of the GEOGLAM partnership and the Agricultural Community of Practice (GEO Ag CoP). SIGMA can help the GEO Ag CoP in achieving this by strengthening the network through the dedicated R&D and capacity building activities. In particular SIGMA will focus on improving agricultural monitoring methods in an open and collaborative manner. In addition, through its data coordination and dissemination activities (WP 2), SIGMA aims to make available, to the community at large, various data sets commonly used in agro-environmental monitoring and results / methods of the various study sites.

European leadership for an initial global agricultural land monitoring system

The University Catholique de Louvain (UCL) is world-wide known for its efforts on global land cover mapping. For example, Globcover products are widely used in agro-environmental assessment studies and monitoring applications. Alterra, VITO and GISAT ensure timely delivery of remote sensing indicators and agrometeorological models in support of Europe’s Crop and Agricultural Monitoring System (MARSOP), managed by JRC. SARMAP is globally known for its SAR processing capabilities and GeoVille provides services based upon Earth Observation based Soil Moisture products, produced in the frame of GMFS, a GMES project. IIASA is a key expertise centre when it comes to global agro-environmental modeling.

SIGMA, for the first time, brings this European partners together, thereby strongly building upon (unique) European assets such as (global) expertise in land cover mapping, satellite data infrastructure (SPOT-VGT, PROBA, Sentinels, EUMETCAST), SAR, agro-meteorological and environmental models and earth observation derived Soil Moisture products. As such, key components of an initial global agricultural land monitoring system are brought together. In addition the project will largely capitalize on the Sentinel satellite series, when becoming available, which is a major European Investment. For the distribution and exploitation of data it is further considered that the EUMETCAST / GEONETCAST system will be further strengthened and become an excellent channel to allow exploitation of the European datasets (as produced by GIO) and SIGMA products.

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Lieven Bydekerke, (Programme Manager)
Tel.: +32 14 336825
Record Number: 196698 / Last updated on: 2017-04-12