As the consequences of climate change are demonstrably affecting crops and the availability of food on a global scale, research on sustainable agricultural practices and food distribution systems has never been more important. Dr. Inbal Becker-Reshef of UMD’s Department of Geographical Sciences, who also is an alumna of the program, was recently honored for her research and work on satellite monitoring of global agriculture.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), an international forum which supports sustainable economic growth and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region, recognized Becker-Reshef as the U.S. nominee for its international Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education (“ASPIRE”) award. Becker-Reshef was selected by the U.S. Department of State as the nominee from the United States. This annual award recognizes young scientists who have demonstrated a commitment to both excellence in scientific research, as evidenced by scholarly publication, and to cooperation with scientists from other APEC member economies. This year’s ASPIRE theme is “Technologies for Food Security.”
This is the first year that the United States has hosted a competition to identify the U.S. ASPIRE nominee. Dr. Becker-Reshef will now compete with scientists from the other APEC economies for the APEC-wide ASPIRE prize. The winner will receive a cash prize of $25,000.
In addition to her innovative research, Becker-Reshef also was recognized by APEC for her contributions to the G20 GEO Global Agricultural Monitoring (GEOGLAM) initiative, serving as program scientist, her work with the Agricultural Market Information System, and other collaborations within the Asia Pacific region. Becker-Reshef is co-director of the Center for Global Agricultural Monitoring Research at UMD, where she manages the Global Agricultural Monitoring (GLAM) activities at UMD, leading projects on wheat yield forecasting national capacity development, crop condition, and methods for evaluation and real-world application of the information she gathers.
Becker-Reshef’s work focuses on the application of satellite information for agricultural monitoring at national to global scales; she is dedicated to transitioning viable research into operational systems.
“I’m interested in doing applied research that can be used to support decisions in agriculture and that can be integrated into operational monitoring systems. Most recently, my work has focused on developing an international initiative called the Crop Monitor. This initiative for the first time brings together close to 40 national and international organizations representing the main food security monitoring agencies, ministries of agriculture, space agencies and research organizations,” Becker-Reshef said. “The Crop Monitor provides straightforward monthly assessments of crop conditions and prospects for the main food suppliers and export countries of the world, as well as for the countries most vulnerable to food insecurity. This information is especially critical in recent years, given the extreme weather conditions impacting food supplies including the most recent El Nino event.”
These crop assessments are based on satellite observations, meteorological information, field observations and ground reports, which reflect an international consensus.
Crop Monitor assessments have been featured in a large number of news articles, report, and press releases, including a recent joint statement by the USAID’s FEWS NET, UN World Food Program, European Commission Joint Research Center, and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, on the devastating impacts of the southern African drought due to El Nino.
“These Crop Monitor assessments over Southern Africa were used to inform decisions on humanitarian assistance food mobilization in the region,” Becker-Reshef said.
In July, Becker-Reshef received the U.S. ASPIRE prize from John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, at a ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The winner of the international competition will be recognized at an award ceremony in August during the Eighth APEC Policy Partnership for Science, Technology and Innovation Meeting in Lima, Peru.
“Dr. Becker-Reshef has realized her vision of taking data from satellites and other sources and rendering them to provide information that is immediately understandable to policy and decision makers. She is a leader in her field,” said Professor Chris Justice, chair of the Department of Geographical Sciences.
“We are at an exciting time, given recent launches of new satellites whose data are freely available—or at low cost—alongside advancements in compute and analysis tools, which are transforming our crop monitoring and forecasting capabilities,” Becker-Reshef said. “My current priorities are to continue developing robust methods for monitoring and forecasting crop production at national to global scales, transitioning such capabilities into ministries of agriculture. This work is particularly critical in countries most vulnerable to food insecurity, to enhance capacity for monitoring their food supplies.
“At the same time, I believe it is important to strengthen partnerships between the remote sensing research community and the policy and economics communities to ensure that the research and development is user-driven, and that we are able to broadly and effectively communicate actionable and relevant information, in a timely manner to our users. These are complex and critical global challenges, and therefore can only be addressed through strong international collaborations and partnerships, across countries, organizations, sectors and disciplines,” Becker-Reshef said.