Google Earth, the University of Sydney and the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) are set to develop the world’s first real-time platform to monitor global production of one of the world’s most important staple crops.

Farming data generated from Google Earth’s satellite imagery will be analysed to understand how land use relates to rice yield, helping meet the Zero Hunger target of the United Nations 2020 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals.

The data will be made available through The Paddy Watch app developed by project lead Professor Budiman Minasny and colleagues at Universiti Malaysia Terengganu.

The project builds on previous work with the app in Malaysia and Indonesia using the Google Earth Engine and deep learning techniques to develop improved crop yield and water consumption forecasts.

Rice farming accounts for 10 percent of all arable land use and provides a staple food source for more than half the world’s population, but efforts to manage sustainability and production are hampered by the lack of accurate maps outlining yield and land use with consistent methodologies.

“Accurate and up-to-date information on how much rice has been planted and how much harvest can be achieved is crucial to achieving global food and water security,” Minasny, now based at the Sydney Institute of Agriculture at the University of Sydney, said.

“Working with our partners in Asia, we will use the Google Earth Engine to build the first real-time mobile application that will allow farmers, agricultural scientists, non-government organisations and government planners to manage land use to ensure food security in the world’s rice bowls.”

Real-time data will be validated by field operators in India, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, allowing agricultural scientists to calibrate monitoring to ensure its accuracy worldwide.

The project is one of 32 supported by the GEO- Google Earth Engine partnership, which is backed by 111 national governments working with the search engine giant and its mapping agency.

The research consortium has been granted a Google Earth licence valued at $4.3 million, as well as technical support valued at $1.4 million from Perth’s EO Data Science.