We don’t see them but we need them

Technology in all its dimensions has evolved radically to define critical spheres of human life such as communication, disaster management, health, education, mobility and provision of goods and services. Space technology is one such innovation that has irreversibly changed the course of human habitation. The world over, humankind has utilised space technology to improve their social-economic standing with remarkable results. Zimbabwe citizens have passed the stage of technological denial; this has been evident by our grandmothers being able to send messages using WhatsApp to their family members. As a country I don’t foresee adoption of space technologies for the sustainable of the country being a big hurdle.

This article presents a number of space technology derived solutions namely remote sensing, navigation and satellite communication that can be used to solve some challenges the country faces today. The Government has established the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency (ZINGSA) to facilitate the speedy implementation of satellite technologies.

Currently most smart phones have in built Global GPS receivers which citizens can use to navigate from one location and also map the shortest possible route, showing that space plays a critical role in day to day life. Smart phones communicate with a constellation of satellites in space providing signals to accurately determine your location and also your destination. Most citizens have mobile phones due to the high mobile penetration rate. Aeroplanes also use this navigation system to move from one location to another. People can also plan their journeys using satellite images to visit places that they haven’t visited physically, getting more insight of the places. Even most modern websites will have the location of the company with either google earth or google maps which makes it easy to navigate to the company without problems. Pictures taken with the GPS mode switched on using a smart phone will have the location where the picture was taken embedded in the image which is helpful in archiving for the pictures.

Advanced drones also have GPS receivers which are used to allow the drone to hover at a fixed latitude and location and also for the drone to remember the spot from where it took off from, and at the press to the home button, it will automatically return to this spot. Drones are being used for aerial photography, videos, agricultural surveillance and as an alternative to getting high resolution images in surveying for small areas because high resolution satellite images come at a cost.

Navigation can also be used to achieve precision agriculture through the advent of Global positioning system (GPS) and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) that allow farmers to precisely identify areas within a field which are experiencing difficulties, so that they can apply, for instance, the correct type and amount of fertilizer, pesticide or herbicide. Crops do not generally grow evenly across the field and consequently crop yield can vary greatly from one position in the field to another. These growth differences may be a result of soil nutrient deficiencies or other forms of stress. Using navigation, the farmer does not only improve the productivity from his land, but also reduces his farm input costs, minimizes environmental impacts and makes timely decisions about managing the crops.
Introduction of this farming practice will be of paramount importance in the efficient utilisation of farming inputs under the Command Agriculture Program.

The main advantages of GPS and GNSS technologies in agriculture include accuracy and repeatability of the same action year after year, thanks to the ability to record data. Precision farming is a fairly recent introduction to Southern African cropping zones. In South Africa precision farming has been applied to evaluate tillage methods, fertilizer supply, crop varieties and seeding rate.

Satellite Communication – Tele health
Satellite communication is been used to provide health services through provision of internet access by satellite-based technology such as mini-Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT). This provision of medical care via the internet is known as telemedicine. Telemedicine is being implemented in Nyanga to provide access to scarce specialist care, improve the quality of care in rural areas and reduce the need for rural patients to travel long distances to seek medical attention. Clinics in Nyanga are being linked to provincial hospitals using VSAT.

For Zimbabwe this entails that specialist doctors in different provincial hospitals can participate in exchange of knowledge and also conducting operations together without necessarily being at the same location e.g in Nyanga. It will also mean that a specialist doctor at Parirenyatwa hospital can be able to communicate and examine patients at local clinics via satellite.

Remote sensing
Remote sensing encompasses techniques necessary to obtain information about an object without actually being in physical contact with it. As a distinct aspect of space technology for earth observation, remote sensing can be used to attain positive results in areas of food security, disease surveillance and epidemiology, disaster management, health, security and environmental management. All these areas are a concern for the sustainable development of the country.

Remote sensing and food security
The difficulty and reward of planning for the future of food security cannot be over emphasised. It stands at the core of any reasonable discourse on sustainable development. To envision challenges and solutions to food security, scientific solutions such as remote sensing can be used to improve agriculture practices thus expedite the guarantee of food security.

Remote sensing can be used to improve agricultural output through enhancing farming production levels, productivity and product qualities. Crop monitoring and damage assessments can be done through analysing remote sensed satellite images. Assessment of crop health mainly early detection of crop infestations is critical in ensuring good agricultural productivity. Remote sensing provides an opportunity for farmers to early detect crop deficiencies and find alleviating measures.

For Zimbabwe, this entails equipping provincial and district agricultural extension officers with remote sensing and Geographical Information system (GIS) skills to ensure that they respond timely in fighting crop diseases. Crop diseases can reduce yields by between 20 to 40 percent (FAO). Eradicating diseases has a natural potential to increase yields thus promoting food security. Thus the need to adopt remote sensing is key in achieving food security.

Remote sensing and disease surveillance and epidemiology
Malaria is a major public health problem in Zimbabwe with about 50% of the country population being at risk of developing the disease annually (National Malaria Control Programme Strategy 2008). In 2008, malaria claimed 800 people in Zimbabwe (National Health Strategy for Zimbabwe 2009:26). Malaria is one of the communicable diseases needs to be eradicated.

Remote sensing can be used to develop climate based malaria early warning systems that are capable of predicting inter annual variations with a lead time of one to two months. Remote sensing has been used to predict malaria cases in advance among 12 districts in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia. Early detection allows health authorities to respond in a timely manner with malaria measures. Such timely alertness can assists Ministry of Health and Child Welfare to prioritise scarce resources to areas and periods at most risk.
Remote sensing will reduce the incidence of malaria by timely detecting malaria sources. This will help improve alertness of epidemic committees of immediate malaria threats thus assist in making timely decision on effective malaria control measures

Remote sensing and environmental management – Climate change
Climate change is one of the many challenges that face the world today, Zimbabwe included. This was acknowledged by the President of Zimbabwe Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa in his inaugural speech at the United Nations. In Zimbabwe, the impact of climate change has over the years been felt in the form of droughts, floods and cyclones. These weather conditions have an adverse impact on agricultural activity. The country is particularly vulnerable because the national economy is largely agro-based and the majority of the population depends on climate sensitive livelihoods such as rain fed agriculture and livestock. Thus climate change is a factor that can negatively impact on the need to achieve food security. Climate change affects all four dimensions of food security (food availability, accessibility, safe and healthy food utilisation and stability of food supply).

Remote sensed satellite images can be used to predict climate change by detecting the carbon dioxide (C02) levels in the atmosphere. This is done through analysing vegetation cover of different species which absorbs it with individual intensity under photosynthesis.

It is of paramount importance for the Ministry of Environment Water and Climate during the formulation of national climate change policy to incorporate remote sensing and GIS early warning system. Predicting climate change is important in disseminating information timely on possible extreme weather conditions such as floods, drought, earth quakes and tsunamis. Climate change predictions using remote sensing data have been done successfully in Indonesia, Lebanon and Ukraine.

Remote sensing and environmental management – Protection and conservation
Remote sensing remains the best tool for environmental management and monitoring. Remote sensing creates an opportunity to examine the previous state of the natural environment and the effect of human activities over time. Remote sensing data enables the identification, delineating and monitoring of pollution sources and affected areas, including derelict land, and changes in surface land use. Satellite images from multi-temporal Landsat-5 and Landsat-7 images, SPOT Panchromatic, and ASTER data can be used to map the natural environment on a local scale, and to assess the impact of mining activities by indicating the changes on land and water resources.

In terms of environmental protection and conservation remote sensing can also be used for wild life management for example in the analysis of the number of elephants in a game park such as Hwange Game Park. Too many animals in a small area come with negative consequences while having less is disastrous, it may be a precursor to extinction of some species.

Remote sensing can be used in biodiversity conservation by providing the means of acquiring data about factors that affect species distribution and on which species distribution depend. If used, remote sensing will provide integrative approaches and better ecological understanding that is of paramount importance in preserving and conserving Zimbabwe National Game Parks and Natural heritage sites. Remote sensing satellite images from LANDSAT, SPOT and Quick Bird can be used in identifying possible threats to biodiversity.

Remote sensing and environment management – Veld fires detection
Remote sensing can used in monitoring and detection of veld fires. In Zimbabwe it is now commonly agreed that veld fires are a significant threat to national economic recovery plans, as they destroy not only pastures necessary for the restocking exercise, but they also destroy foreign currency generating plantations (Environment Management Agent, 2014). Veld fires may compromise the food security goal as they have over the years destroyed wheat farms, maize fields, pastures for livestock among valuables (Environment Management Agent, 2014). According to the Zimbabwe Food Security Outlook report of October 2017 to May 2018 the Ministry of Environment reported that since the start of the fire season on July 31 to early September, some 435,000 hectares were destroyed by fire.
Geostationary satellites such as GOES and MSG are more suitable for near real time fire monitoring. In Zimbabwe utilising remote sensing for fire mitigation and early warning fire system will reduce veldt fire incidences, fatalities, preserve biodiversity in national game parks and also our heritage cultural sites. The Southern African Fire Network (SAFnet) uses remote sensing and GIS in fire monitoring and fire management.

VSAT technology has been used to broadcast in remote locations with difficult terrain terrain to manouever. VSAT have also been used to remotely link remote station to the main offices for example toll gate systems are linked together using this technology and it has created the easy of doing business.

Remote sensed images when there are analysed moving of people around the border which can be used to track how border jumpers are moving which can be used in the deployed of security services.

Big Data
A lot of people can agree with the writer that even with their phone their now require even move storage for taking pictures, high definition videos requires more storage. Frequency bands have been identified that satellites can utilised in making sure people are not starving in consuming bid data. As the world is moving in the Fourth industrial revolution experts in the world are having sleepless nights carrying out studies in the identified frequency bands of the natural scarce resource the radio frequency spectrum.
Ability of Satellite to have a larger foot print makes it a cheaper solution as they are able to cover larger areas and also the cost of launching satellites is going down with the advent of technology.

This article was written by: Timothy Kuhamba