Water footprint of commercially important crops in S.A. using in-field measurement, crop-modelling and remote sensing

Project leaders: Dr Michael van der Laan and Prof John Annandale

Can remote sensing accurately measure the water use and biomass accumulation of commercial field crops such as maize? This project set out to compare the efficiency of classic methods (in-field measurements) to satellite image estimations of water use and biomass accumulation. This frontier science programme was novel for two reasons - it applied remote sensing to determine growth in a field crop (maize) in South Africa for the first time, and secondly, it challenged both conventional and new techniques. Surprisingly, the two methodologies were comparable, showing that going forward, remote sensing harbors real potential for water footprinting and informing improved management.

An IRT-funded student participated in this WRC-funded project along with colleagues from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and an international private company. The team included researchers from soil science, crop science, agrometeorology and remote sensing specialists.

The significance of this work is that it can help farmers and government select appropriate crops and understand impact of water resources for specific regions. This technique also holds potential to inform consumers in making conscious decisions about food selection.

They leveraged another WRC-funded project to assess water footprints of vegetable crops. The methodology is being used in the African Food, Agriculture, Land and Natural Resource Project – in partnership with the CIRAD from France and the University of Bern in Switzerland, with funding from the South African National Research Foundation.

- Author IFNuW

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