Analyze the impact of agricultural activity on ecosystems

How a multi-stakeholder project, MOCUPP, is moving Costa Rica towards sustainable practices to protect the country’s biodiversity

Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse places in the world, containing nearly 6 percent of global biodiversity. As a result, its ecosystem provides a range of services, including wood and timber, plants and fruits, among many others that have fueled industry, scientific research and culture.

Biodiversity also plays an essential role in the well-being of the planet. When biodiversity is abundant, there is an increase in ecosystem productivity which supports a greater number of species and therefore a greater variety of crops. In addition, biodiversity protects freshwater sources, breaks down pollutants and contributes to climate stability. To preserve this rich environment, Costa Rica has signed forty-five international environmental treaties in addition to setting up regulatory bodies to protect its diverse environment.

The National Center for High Technologies (CeNAT) Project to monitor change of use in productive landscapes (in Spanish, “Monitoreo de Cambio de uso en Paisajes Productivos– MOCUPP) uses Planet satellite data to monitor changes in land use and analyze the deforestation processes associated with the country’s agricultural dynamics.

Pineapple growing outside El Cairo, Costa Rica, captured by a PlanetScope satellite on November 23, 2019. Boundaries detected by MOCUPP. © 2021, Planet Labs Inc. All rights reserved.

“Our production models depend on biodiversity, so it is imperative to have more sustainable productions. MOCUPP is a powerful tool that accurately records changes in land use and land cover,” said Christian Vargas BolanosResearcher at the PRIAS Laboratory of CeNAT.

These observations allow the team to improve productivity and ensure that their decisions contribute to greater conservation and sustainable practices.

To date, MOCUPP records the annual coverage of three crops: pineapple, oil palm and pasture. They also study the processes of regeneration, permanence and loss of tree cover resulting from these crops.

Map of Costa Rica showing pineapple and palm fields. © 2021, Planet Labs Inc. All rights reserved.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as part of solutions to overcome national travel restrictions, Planet imagery has provided an alternative to in-person field visits. The implementation of “virtual tours” has enabled the project to collect information that is normally collected in person, to be collected by another means, in this case through the use of high-resolution satellite imagery,” said Vargas.

This method was used to validate MOCUPP products through the use of higher spatial resolution data in Costa Rica.

The main finding was that the spatial resolution of Planet’s data allowed the PRIAS lab to learn that there were fewer hectares of pineapples growing than they had previously thought. The evolution of the pineapple production landscape decreased from 66,266.01 hectares in 2017 to 65,442.41 hectares in 2019. This represents a reduction of 823.6 hectares, which is explained by the precision of the equipment of image Planet used in the preparation of products.

“Because we use PlanetScope imagery to validate the layers of the productive landscape and the gain and loss of that productive landscape, we were able to generate more accurate maps. It’s really helpful for growers because acres that would previously have been reported as a gain in the productive landscape can now be accurately reported as growers aren’t expanding crops or clearing land,” said Vargas.

In accordance with international treaties and environmental bodies that protect Costa Rica, MOCUPP’s work highlights the impact of agricultural activity on ecosystems. This information gives an idea of ​​how to transform the processes into models that move the country towards sustainability.

“In the future, this work could help certify deforestation-free products. At that time, citizens will play a vital role in being able to learn about the products they choose to consume,” said Esteban Castillo, Researcher at the PRIAS Laboratory of CeNAT.

As the team looks to the future, the possibilities for integrating satellite data into their work are limitless.

“There is the possibility of incorporating new productive units such as coffee, musaceae (including bananas, plantains and abaco), sugar cane, rice, among others, depending on the productive development from the country. In addition, there is a need to continue working with Planet images in other future projects conducted by PRIAS, such as soil feasibility assessment in planting crops, crop yield monitoring, analysis of crop health and disease monitoring,” said Vargas.

MOCUPP is led by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) through its Green Commodities Program and is funded by funds from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The MOCCUP is the result of the collaboration of three organizations: the PRIAS Laboratory of CeNAT of the National Council of Rectors (CONARE), the Directorate of Real Estate Cadastre (DRI), and the National Geographic Institute (IGN); It benefits from the support of the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE), through the National Center for Geospatial Information (CENIGA) and the support of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG) .

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