Unlocking the potential of Earth Observation to address Africa’s critical challenges - Insight Report January 2021


Executive summary

Earth observations are fundamental to harness the innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to support the public good.

We often hear that data and information is the 21st century’s currency. This is why data democratization is so important, particularly in those countries whose economies suffer from a lack of relevant and available data. Big data is fundamental to building resilient systems, so when barriers to access and usage are removed, its potential for addressing development priorities and critical challenges will be unlocked.

With the global COVID-19 crisis threatening the African economy and livelihood of its citizens, governments and industry leaders, NGOs and CSOs are called on to utilize all the available data to respond, recover and advance hindered efforts towards the achievement of global development priorities. In this perspective, Earth Observation (EO) can be one of the most valuable assets Africa can rely on. EO, in fact, provides vast amounts of satellite data for monitoring and managing the Earth’s natural resources, and the human and climate impact on them.

Digital Earth Africa (DE Africa) is an example of how Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies can enable widespread socioeconomic development.
It is a continental-scale data infrastructure for all of Africa that democratizes the capacity to process and analyse satellite data. It provides analysisready information for more informed, strategic and inclusive decision-making by allowing detailed tracking of water, land, construction and vegetation changes across countries. The insights it offers can be used to tackle a wide range of issues, including water scarcity, land use and food security.

Even under conservative assumptions, the impact of DE Africa for the African industry could be higher than $2 billion a year. This report provides, for the first time, some quantification of DE Africa’s potential impact, shining a light on three key areas:

  1. Accelerated growth of the EO industry, an extra $500 million of yearly sales with consequent externalities on employment and fiscal revenues

  2. Boosting agricultural productivity, with water savings, productivity gains, insurance benefits and reduced pesticide usage in agriculture worth at least an extra $900 million a year

  3. Effective regulation of gold mining activity, with savings of at least $900 million from reduced environmental damage and fiscal evasion

To shift the economic estimation to action at scale, the uptake and integration of data analytics practices and analysis-ready EO data into business models and political systems is required. An African-led ecosystem across diverse sectors and perspectives can see sustainable opportunities enabled by geospatial data and services. This requires collaboration and reinforcement with stakeholders.
Drawing on existing frameworks and identifying gaps to make improvements will allow this data to be used to address Africa’s critical challenges.