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Smart farming project wins top Newton Prize

By ANGUS McNEICE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-02-18 08:43

Scientists from China and the United Kingdom have received a 459,000-pound ($598,000) prize for developing a system that uses satellites to monitor crops in China.

A team of researchers led by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and University College London developed the system which is now being tested in Ghana, Argentina and the UK.

The project won the 2019 Newton Prize Chair's Award, which is the top honor in an annual contest organized by the UK government's Newton Fund for global partnerships in science and innovation.

"This project is a great example of how space-based data and technology can be used to make a real impact on the lives of people all over the world," said Hugh Mortimer, a research scientist at the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, which partially funded the project. "This joint UK-China initiative will help farmers, food producers and national bodies to manage crop production more effectively and plan food production accurately. This doesn't just benefit those in the UK and China, but will go on to help the global community."

The project has the potential to improve food security in nations that rely heavily on agriculture, such as Ghana, where 45 percent of the population derives its livelihood directly or indirectly from the agricultural sector, according to the United Nations' World Food Program.

"Winning the Newton Prize Chair's Award will allow us to work with colleagues in Ghana to build and enhance their capacity for food-crop monitoring using these methods," said Philip Lewis, a professor of remote sensing at University College London. "Our initial focus will be on maize yield and acreage in the northern regions of Ghana, where food-crop farming is vital to low-income households and particularly impacts women."

The project makes use of satellites in the European Space Agency's Copernicus Program. These satellites are capable of taking images and collecting data at high frequency, providing detailed information about land areas over time.

The information gathered in the pilot program in North China was used by local authorities in their winter wheat production planning. The researchers say that their techniques can improve the accuracy of crop monitoring by 10 percent.

Researchers from Northumbria University and the Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Sciences received 198,000 pounds for work that uses big data to improve access to transportation and other services for the elderly in China.

"Winning the 2019 Newton China Prize means our UK and Chinese partners can continue to work together to develop our Newton Prize project to promote sustainable healthcare and social care policies, services and technologies in China for villagers and the vulnerable," said Qin Shengfeng, who is a design professor at Northumbria University.

Scientists from the University of Huddersfield and the Bandung Institute of Technology in Indonesia won 195,000 pounds for developing an improved warning system that protects coastal communities from the impacts of climate change.

And a team from the University of Surrey and De La Salle University in the Philippines received 199,000 pounds for a program that looks to convert municipal sewage and wastewater into plant fertilizer.

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