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RIICE: Satellite data for forecasting rice production and insuring against crop failures in Asia

Brief description of the project

Description: RIICE: Satellite data for forecasting rice production and insuring against crop failures in Asia
Client: Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ); Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)
Countries: Cambodia, India, Thailand and Indonesia, Viet Nam
Partner: International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Sarmap SA. Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Swiss Re
Lead executing agency: Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretariat, Food, Agriculture and Forestry Division
Total duration: 2012 to 2019

initial situation

As one of the most important food crops on earth, rice provides food security for more than three and a half billion people. A large part of rice production takes place in Asia: 90 percent of the world's available rice is grown on 140 million hectares of land - an area larger than South Africa. Rice is therefore the main source of income for farmers in Asia. However, the entire region has to contend with extreme weather conditions: floods, typhoons and periods of drought are the order of the day, and crops are repeatedly destroyed.

Against this background, early and precise information about rice cultivation and the expected harvests are essential for food security. When disasters in a country lead to massive crop losses and threaten an adequate supply of food, the respective government usually supports its farmers with immediate aid. However, ad hoc financial disaster aid is difficult to plan and places a significant burden on the national budget. As a result, governments are looking for long-term risk management approaches. One tool that enables the financial risk of natural disasters to be shifted is crop failure insurance. They can help cope with the financial impact on smallholders.


Satellite-based crop failure insurance reduces the susceptibility of small rice farmers to extreme weather events and strengthens their economic situation.


Under the name “RIICE” (Remote Sensing-based Information and Insurance for Crop in Emerging Economies), detailed information on around 15 million hectares of rice-growing areas in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam is collected and evaluated. At the beginning of the project, the Asian partner countries received help in developing a satellite-based technology that would provide them with precise information about the rice-growing areas, the crop yields and the estimated losses in a timely manner. The basis for this is the Sentinel satellite system of the European Space Agency (ESA), which regularly takes snapshots of all of Asia that are available free of charge. Sentinel uses a radar satellite that scans large parts of the earth's surface with electromagnetic waves. It can also penetrate thick cloud cover and thus enables the rice fields to be monitored even during the monsoons, the main growing season for rice. In the first few years, the aim was to test and validate this innovative technology in the pilot areas of the partner countries. The focus now is on expanding the technology and using the available data.

Since 2015, agreements have been signed with the partner governments and with government-related agricultural institutions as part of the project, and the partner countries are supported in deploying the technology nationwide and making use of its possible applications. SAR data play an important role, especially for crop failure insurance. The RIICE partner countries have developed a procedure to use satellite information to make insurance programs more efficient and compensation more transparent. In the event of damage, the affected farmers receive help quickly and can avert impending ruin by minimizing the loss of income. In November 2016, for example, the government of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu integrated RIICE technology into its new insurance system. More than a million farmers are now insured through this system.

GIZ, the reinsurance company SwissRe, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the software company sarmap SA and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) have jointly launched an initiative to monitor rice-growing areas and protect them against extreme weather events.


More than 300 employees from government institutions and agricultural research institutes have so far been trained by GIZ in the analysis of satellite data. This includes information about where and how much rice has been grown in the current season, how the seeds are developing and whether there is too much or too little water in the fields. Long before the actual harvest, the experts can use the satellite data and simulation models to make forecasts of the expected harvest yields - with an accuracy of around 90 percent.

Thanks to real-time monitoring and the predictions derived from it, the authorities are able to counteract impending crop failures at an early stage. They can provide support long before the harvest fails, for example because the seedlings are threatened with being destroyed by storms. For example in the November 2015 harvest season in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu: Due to the worst drought in over 140 years, India's former “rice bowl” consisted only of fallow land. After a severe drought in 2017, thanks to the information from the RIICE project, more than 22,500 rice farmers were compensated for the crop failures within three months with an average of 255 euros. Otherwise this would have taken up to a year.


Anja Erlbeck
[email protected]