RAPP Newsletter 9 – June 2018

Kapiti field trip, May 2018 – credits J.P. Guerschman

Dear RAPP colleagues,

Here it is, our 9th edition ((June) of the RAPP (Rangeland and Pasture Productivity) Newsletter as a good start of 2018 second half !

Since our last publication, we:

  • have been busy preparing our RAPP annual workshop with our local host (IRLI) in Nairobi (Kenya, May). This year, the meeting was particularly enriching: it also included a session on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and was followed by a 3-day workshop on Data Cube for African countries.
  • participated in the GEOGLAM Workshop on Data and Systems Requirements for Operational Agricultural Monitoring (Ispra in Italy, April),
  • have also continued to improve the RAPP Map, reinforced our partnerships (especially at the workshop in Nairobi), and publishing, contributing to research papers.

And last but not least…. we have the great pleasure to announce that we now welcome TWO NEW co-leads to help us continue with RAPP !

Read below for more information

Community-of-Practice and workshops  

Our annual meeting in Kenya: another great success!

This year, we organised a very successful RAPP workshop in Nairobi, Kenya, in May 2018 (7-11 May), co-hosted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and supported by RAPP coordination team (CSIRO and SANSA) and other partners. 

We take this opportunity to thank again ILRI-CGIAR for hosting us, huge thanks for providing an outstanding local support too. Almost 70 participants in total, from more than 20 countries attended the workshop, delivering quality insights for concrete way forward. The SDG session brought some new ideas and allowed discussions around further potential collaborations (see more below).

Group photo of the RAPP workshop at ILRI (Nairobi, Kenya) – May 2018

The event was also remotely accessible which was useful for key participants who were unable to travel to present (from Namibia, Austria (IIASA), Argentina or Australia).

Webex printscreen – RAPP workshop, ILRI

One of the highlights was also the field trip organised by IRLI on Sunday, just before the workshop. They drove the group to the Kapiti Station, a RAPP test site in Kenya.

Field trip on Kapiti site – Kenya, May 2018

Field trip on Kapiti site – Kenya, May 2018

Kapiti field trip – lunch time under the shade

Well done everyone! If you wish to know more and access the presentations, please check-out the event’s page.

As you know, we decided to dedicate a whole week in Nairobi around Earth Observation satellite data/rangelands and how it can also help monitor/achieve some Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) – including food security and better/more sustainable pasture land management, using the Open Data Cube Initiative (ODC) as an innovative platform to better access, analyse and use data.

The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS), the Government of Kenya, Strathmore University and the FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization) also participated in this special combined week to promote the use of EO data.


Thus, with multiple partners, the African Regional Data Cube (ARDC) was officially launched in Nairobi in May. Alongside the launch was an in-depth training (full training document in PDF is available) for government representatives of the participating

ARDC countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Senegal, and Ghana. 

Pilot sites: new activities in Kapiti (Kenya)

(Francesco Fava, ILRI)

The  ILRI RAPP pilot site in Kenya, is located on 32,000 acres of semi-arid rangeland in southeastern Kenya. The 80 ILRI staff working at Kapiti maintain for research purposes about 2,500 head of Kenya’s native and popular Boran beef cattle, 1,200 native Kenyan red Maasai and exotic Dorper sheep, and 250 Galla goats, which are native to northern Kenya.

A giraffe appearing (Kapiti field trip, May 2018, J. Guerschman)

As one of the few as yet unfragmented rangelands in the region, Kapiti also hosts large numbers of animals. Serving as a critical wildlife corridor for migratory mammals, Kapiti helps to maintain the fragile and unique Athi-Kapiti-Kaputei ecosystem of Kenya’s Southern Conservancy Area.

Rangelands near Kapitin (J. Guerschman)

Kapiti offers a unique opportunity for much needed quantitative research on rangeland and pasture productivity, among others, and we are expanding our research and experimental infrastructure to perform long-term experiments:

  • Environmental assessment (Greenhouse gas emission measurements, CO2, CH4 and N2O) are ongoing for the different landscape components on Kapiti – waterholes, cattle enclosures, savanna vegetation/soil – This is based on GHG chamber measurements and is ongoing since 2016.
  • Extensive soil measurements evaluating soil and nutrient stocks are currently done.
  • Multiple digital cameras are installed (since 2017) for phenology monitoring of different vegetation communities, with the aim of studying rangeland phenology at multiple scales combining field and satellite (Sentinel 2, MODIS) data in collaboration with the University of Twente-ITC. The network will expand in the next months.
  • Setup of EC station to monitor CO2 and H2O exchange from a typical pastoral landscape will start in July 2018.
  • Land Surface Temperature observations to validate satellite products will be setup in July in collaboration with the King’s College London.

Looking forward for more collaborations and research opportunities! Please contact Francesco Fava

Additional support for RAPP co-leadership 

We would like to sincerely thank Clement Adjorlolo (SANSA) again for his active role in RAPP over the last few months and years (active member then co-lead). Unfortunately, his recent departure from SANSA for other challenges meant that we also lost our “co-lead” in RAPP.

Dr Abel Ramoelo (CSIR, South Africa)

However SANSA proposed another key South African RAPP contributor to replace him, Abel Ramoelo (CSIR, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research), who has already been involved in the initiative.

Dr Francesco Fava (ILRI-CGIAR, Kenya)

In the meantime, thanks to our fruitful collaboration with ILRI to prepare the workshop in Nairobi, we are also very pleased to welcome Dr. Francesco Fava (ILRI-CGIAR/CRP) as another co-lead to support us.


It can be challenging to coordinate such a global project only from Australia, so at CSIRO we (Dr Juan Guerschman – project leader, Dr Alex Held, Flora Kerblat and others) truly welcome these two supports from Africa to help us continue lead the RAPP initiative and hopefully achieve more in the coming months!   

Beyond RAPP

Launch of the African Regional Data Cube (ARDC)

In a recent news article from the UN Foundation, the power of satellite data was demonstrated with the example of the recent launch of the ARDC just after the RAPP workshop in Nairobi.

ARDC training session, Nairobi, Strathmore University – credits GPSDD & other ARDC partners

As stated, the event was held during Kenya’s rainy season. Heavy rains caused flooding, landslides, and a burst dam, among other impacts, killing hundreds of people and displacing hundreds of thousands. (…) Climate change, health, environment, infrastructure, sustainable cities and many more are the interconnected issues that the global community aims at tackling through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

But these global objectives will be achieved through regional, national and local actions, from various stakeholders, and using different methods. We, members of the RAPP/food security/EO communities, already know that EO data can play a key role, but it’s critical to continue showcasing it with impact-driven results for the civil society.

This is one of the reasons we decided to organise our RAPP workshop the same week as the ARDC launch in Nairobi – and we are delighted to see these two events raised the awareness of the power of satellite data to help both track/monitor and achieve some SDGs.

ARDC Group photo – Credits GPSDD and other partners

Visit the ARDC page for more resources.

RAPP and SDG opportunities

(Neil Sims, CSIRO)

SDG session at the RAPP workshop – N. Sims, CSIRO

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a major driver for increasing the Earth observation (EO) capacity of developing countries throughout the world. The SDG’s are providing many new global engagement opportunities for specialists in EO and landscape assessment, and one of the critical first steps is to understand the existing capacity and future needs of the countries requesting support through the SDG process.

The SDG session in Nairobi was an opportunity to hear from representatives of several African countries about their experiences with the SDG process, and to describe the SDG process to researchers. We also presented details of one specific indicator, SDG 15.3.1 “Proportion of degraded land over total land area”, for which CSIRO has developed methods guidance documents for the UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification).

Each of the 17 SDGs includes Targets and Indicators, and some (usually relating to environmental variables) are more readily measurable by remote sensing technologies or using satellite data than others.

Example of SDG 15.3.1 measures land degradation using three ‘sub-indicators’:  land cover, land productivity and soil organic carbon. Calculation of each of the sub indicators for reporting on SDG 15.3.1 involves measuring changes in these parameters using a series of metrics, which aid the interpretation of degradation based on the level and trend of productivity over time. This structure is common among several of the SDGs, and these productivity metrics provide a common ground for RAPP researchers to support the SDG process through 15.3.1.

After the SDG session in Kenya, several people commented their surprise at the amount of detail provided for the SDG measurement methods. The workshop also highlighted the formal processes associated with developing methods for SDGs, which are critical for standardising the results from nations with very different landscapes and capacity to use EO to measure their land conditions.

According to N.Sims, one of the highlights was a presentation by Joseph Epitu (from Uganda Ministry of Water and Environment), where the Government has recently adopted the SDGs as their National development goals strategy. This demonstrated the real impact the SDG process is having on some countries, and reinforces the importance of our efforts to improve the amount and quality of data available to support not only their SDG reporting, but the social, economic and environmental sustainability of these countries overall.

Index-Based Livestock Insurance updates

(Francesco Fava, ILRI-CGIAR)

How to make Earth Observation (EO) really impactful for pastoral communities’ livelihood and food security? 

Disaster risk financing and index-insurance initiatives using EO data for vegetation condition assessment and monitoring linked with economic models to trigger financial mechanisms to support institutions/communities better coping with major climate shocks (i.e. primarily drought) are more and more in the political agenda of African countries.

The ILRI-led Index-based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) project has been pioneering NDVI-based index-insurance for pastoralist in East Africa in an effort to identify and deploy solutions to enhance the resilience of agro-climatically vulnerable pastoral households.

The IBLI product was first sold in northern Kenya’s Marsabit County in 2010 and in southern Ethiopia’s Borana zone in 2012. Since then, a robust research agenda has proved IBLI to bring a range of positive socioeconomic impacts to pastoral households, both in terms of welfare-related and nutrition outcomes and drought-coping capability. Meanwhile, IBLI has rapidly evolved and scaled from the two pilots to the Kenya Livestock Insurance Program (KLIP), a large public-private partnership spearheaded by the Government of Kenya, and to an ambitious expansion program in Ethiopia. Currently covering 22,000 households across eight counties of Northern Kenya, KLIP intends to scale to 100,000 households across 12 counties by 2020. Ongoing initiatives are also exploring the possibility to expand IBLI to other countries in East and West Africa.

Despite significant achievements have been already made, more still needs to be done to improve our ability to use EO data to assess rangeland condition and to relate it to ground impacts on livestock and pastoralists’ welfare (e.g. through overcoming ‘greenness’ index toward assessment of vegetation quantity and quality for animal nutrition).

The RAPP community could play a key role to address this challenge!

RAPP Products

RAPP Map Updates

Total Vegetation Cover C6 (PV+NPV, monthly), May 2018

Our RAPP Map has seen further small changes in the last few months including improvements with MODIS C6, up-to-date data, and we are continuously looking for more improvements/changes/feedback, so please let let us know if you are happy with the tool.


Your inputs are welcome! Feel free to send your comments to Juan Guerschman

Vegetation Cover Anomaly 

As always, please visit our website to check out the latest global Vegetation Cover Anomaly maps.

Here are the latest products (Green and Total VCA, May 2018):

Global GREEN Vegetation Cover Anomaly – May 2018

Global TOTAL Vegetation Cover Anomaly – May 2018

The monthly vegetation cover in May 2018 shows a highly positive anomaly in green and total cover in Eastern Africa (Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia) which follows a period of very heavy rainfall during the wet season. (see FewsNet alert).

Some negative anomalies in vegetation cover are observed in the Sahel and in Northern Afghanistan and southern Turkmenistan (also reported by FewsNetand here as well).   

The monthly vegetation cover anomaly product can also be viewed on its own, and downloaded here.

Focus on…

RAPP Survey: what did you tell us?

In April 2018, J. Guerschman attended the GEOGLAM meeting in Ispra (Italy) about EO requirements, to represent our RAPP community. 

GEOGLAM Meeting, Ispra, Italy – May 2018

A few weeks before, GEOGLAM sent a survey to their partners about EO requirements, and we provided inputs from rangelands’ perspective: for instance, crop mask, crop type map/planted area, yield forecasting, and current year phenology were identified as top priority products.



In a similar survey coincidentally deployed by RAPP a few days later, rangeland/pasture cover and rangeland/pasture biomass were among the most highly valued products. Ahead of our RAPP meeting in Kenya, we wanted to reach you out, and asked your insights about the use of Earth Observation in rangeland and pasture applications. Our RAPP survey also included a section about the RAPP initiative itself.

We would like to take the opportunity to thank you all again for your contributions: we received 54 responses.

The results from the survey show a very heterogeneous range of users of EO for rangelands. For instance, respondents to the survey work on a range of applications, very evenly distributed between global, regional, country, sub-country and paddock scales. Similarly, while most respondents use mostly satellite data, many also rely on in-situ or handheld sensors, UAVs and airborne data sources.

Use of Earth Observation data: your responses

A full description of the survey results can be accessed here.

In the coming months, based on these results, we will probably reach out the community again to help us design the next priorities for RAPP. The experience of getting to know you a bit more and receiving your feedback was undeniably very valuable to us!

Research and Development


  • Improved calibration and validation of MODIS-derived vegetation cover  
    • A recent paper published in Remote Sensing Letters documents an improvement in the calibration and validation of the MODIS fractional cover product for Australia. In the paper, data from the MODIS Collection 6 data were used, together with an extended collection of field measurements of vegetation cover, which now includes 3022 observations (compared to ~1200 from the previous version). The recalibration provides a fractional cover product with reduced uncertainty and improves the basis for a prototype global product for use in modelling of rangeland and pasture productivity.  

Guerschman, J.P. and Hill, M.J., 2018. Calibration and validation of the Australian fractional cover product for MODIS collection 6. Remote Sens. Lett. 9, 696–705. doi:10.1080/2150704X.2018.1465611

  • Leaf Nitrogen Distribution Predicted on Sentinel-2 Imagery 
    • A paper published in Remote Sensing uses Sentinel-2 imagery to predict leaf Nitrogen distribution in a semi-arid rangeland. Leaf nitrogen concentration (leaf N, %) is an essential component for understanding biogeochemical cycling. Leaf N is a good indicator of grass or forage quality, which is important for understanding the movements and feeding patterns of herbivores. Leaf N can be used as input for rangeland carrying capacity and stocking rate models. (…) The new Sentinel-2 sensor has two red edge bands, is freely available, and could further improve the estimation of leaf N at a regional scale. The objective of this study is to develop red edge based Sentinel-2 models derived from an analytical spectral device (ASD) spectrometer to map and monitor leaf N using Sentinel-2 images.

Ramoelo, A., Cho, M., 2018. Explaining Leaf Nitrogen Distribution in a Semi-Arid Environment Predicted on Sentinel-2 Imagery Using a Field Spectroscopy Derived Model. Remote Sens. 10, 269. doi:10.3390/rs10020269

  • Earth observation and SDG (including land monitoring) – stay tuned!
    • Special issue in preparation for the Remote Sensing of Environment Journal (call for papers): a policy-oriented paper will be submitted by the GEOGLAM initiative (abstract accepted), including a section about rangelands. The RAPP Map will be integrated into it.


(Francesco Fava, ILRI-CGIAR)

A new project between ILRI and African Risk Capacity (ARC), a specialized Agency of the African Union (AU) to help member states improve their capacities to better plan, prepare and respond to extreme weather events and natural disasters, has been funded. The objective is to develop a new EO-based drought model for African pastoral areas to improve sovereign disaster risk management.

Stay tuned for more activities!


On top of regular communications with our main partners, RAPP provides you with updates on the website including news, events and information on RAPP pilot sites. 

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter (@geoglamRAPP) : news and products (eg. monthly Vegetation Cover anomalies) are also published there!

If you attended a relevant event (eg. the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock in Mongolia, AFRIGEOSS week in Gabon, etc.) to the RAPP community, feel free to share outcomes as well so we can communicate about it – We would be glad to hear from you!

Some upcoming events worth noting

      • 23-27 July (Valencia, Spain): IGARSS Conference (Open Data Cube presentation + SDG session)
      • 29-31 August (Sanya, China):  GEOGLAM Annual Meeting focusing on GEOGLAM Cloud Infrastucture and Knowledge Management
      • 4-7 September (Ispra, Italy): CEOS Joint Meetings incl. GEOGLAM Working Group
      • 16-18 October (Brussels, Belgium): CEOS Plenary incl. GEOGLAM side-meetings

Thanks again to the contributors for this edition. We would like to hear MORE from you: please contact us if you have any updates, papers or events to share in regards tremote sensing-based methods and rangelands’ management !

To all our Northern hemisphere friends, we wish you a safe (and not-too-arid) summer (break)!

Meanwhile Down Under… it’s that time of year, surprisingly or not, we might see something similar around here soon… yes, it can snow here too!

Livestock under snow near Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia (July 2015), Elizabeth Fardon (ABC)