Rapid Response Crop Maps in Data Sparse Regions

Spatial information on cropland distribution, often called cropland or crop maps, are critical inputs for a wide range of agriculture and food security analyses and decisions. However, high-resolution cropland maps are not readily available for most countries, especially in regions dominated by smallholder farming (e.g., sub-Saharan Africa). These maps are especially critical in times of crisis when decision makers need to rapidly design and enact agriculture-related policies and mitigation strategies, including providing humanitarian assistance, dispersing targeted aid, or boosting productivity for farmers. A major challenge for developing crop maps is that many regions do not have readily accessible ground truth data on croplands necessary for training and validating predictive models, and field campaigns are not feasible for collecting labels for rapid response. We present a method for rapid mapping of croplands in regions where little to no ground data is available. We present results for this method in Togo, where we delivered a high-resolution (10 m) cropland map in under 10 days to facilitate rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic by the Togolese government. This demonstrated a successful transition of machine learning applications research to operational rapid response in a real humanitarian crisis. All maps, data, and code are publicly available to enable future research and operational systems in data-sparse regions.

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