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As countries around the world continue to leverage space technology for socio-economic development, the space sector in Africa is determinedly keeping pace.  If properly harnessed, the transformative power of space technology presents enormous potential for Africa to achieve its development goals and bring about meaningful change, according to Imraan Saloojee of the RIIS. The institute is partnering with space agencies to foster vibrant space innovation ecosystems. 

“Space technology is no longer the exclusive domain of advanced economies. It’s a global asset that can deliver significant benefits to all nations. These tools have the capacity to address a variety of developmental issues, including climate change, and contribute significantly to disaster management, development, and food security. The accessibility of satellite navigation technologies and earth observation data has also increased, paving the way for the creation of innovative new businesses,” says Imraan Saloojee

 Crucial insights to address climate change 

Climate change is among the most urgent global concerns of our era, with its impact being experienced worldwide. The integration of satellites and Artificial Intelligence (AI) offers critical knowledge about our planet’s evolving climate, aiding in the development of strategies for climate adaptation and mitigation. 

“Space technology can be employed in numerous ways to understand climate change. For instance, satellites can track forest fires to prevent them from escalating uncontrollably. They can also be deployed for monitoring food security and health, as well as tracking greenhouse gas emissions,” says Saloojee. “Space technology can contribute to surveillance of desertification and deforestation, monitoring biodiversity loss, and establishing early warning systems for droughts and floods.”  

Satellite images are used to monitor deforestation rates to safeguard wildlife habitats and promote sustainable land use. Land and marine monitoring is essential for preserving ecosystems, managing natural resources, and supporting sustainable agriculture. By using space-based data, countries in Africa can effectively monitor deforestation, soil degradation, and other environmental threats.  

Earth imaging company Planet Labs PBC plans to invest throughout Africa, offering daily satellite imagery and geospatial solutions that aid decision-making in areas like drought risk reduction, forest management, and renewable energy sources. 

Sustainable urban and rural development through satellite imagery 

Satellite imagery can play a key role in sustainable urban and rural development. Detailed aerial views enable infrastructure monitoring, land use planning, traffic monitoring and transportation optimisation. For example, satellite data was instrumental in planning the expansion of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, ensuring optimal land use and minimal environmental impact. Space-based data can also be used to monitor air and water quality, enabling authorities to take timely action in addressing environmental challenges and ensuring public health.

“Space-based data not only supports informed planning and monitoring but also offers significant cost and time savings, especially in areas where data collection is challenging,” says Saloojee. “In urban and rural planning, satellite imagery plays a vital role in identifying land use patterns, monitoring urban sprawl, and guiding infrastructure development. This information helps ensure that the growth of cities and towns is sustainable and aligned with the country’s development goals.” 

Satellite imagery can plays a crucial role in assessing infrastructure quality in both urban and rural areas of Africa. For instance, in Uganda, satellite image analysis helps in identifying poorly connected villages, guiding the government and NGOs in targeting these areas for infrastructural development. 

Satellite imagery is increasingly used to understand economic development and monitor urban growth. Nighttime light (NTL) data from satellites, for example, are widely used to monitor the dynamics of urban growth. In Nigeria, NTL data has provided valuable insights into urban expansion trends, aiding in planning and management of urban development. 

Understanding urban morphology and classification is another critical element of sustainable urban development. In South Africa, satellite imagery has been used to classify different types of urban structures, assisting in the planning and implementation of sustainable urban design strategies. 

Disaster management in the space age 

African countries are able to leverage the potential of space technology in disaster management. Satellite data is being used to monitor weather patterns, predict natural disasters such as flooding, and assess their impact. This information is invaluable in planning proactive measures, reducing the devastation caused by disasters, and aiding swift recovery efforts. In Mozambique, for example, satellite data was used to map the extent of flooding during the 2019 Cyclone Idai, assisting in rescue and relief operations. 

Enhancing food security and agriculture 

In the domain of food security and agriculture, satellite imagery can be used to monitor crop growth patterns and manage food production. “A key area is precision agriculture, driven by space technology, which can enable farmers to optimise resource use and improve crop yields,” says Saloojee.   

A notable project currently underway is a collaboration between the Rwandan Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The project uses satellite-based remote sensing technology to monitor crop health, estimate yields, and provide early warnings of potential crop hazards. 

Projects like AfSIS (Africa Soil Information Service) are using remote sensing to pave the way for sustainable agriculture and strategic land use. The data obtained from satellite imagery allows for accurate assessment of soil health, crop growth, and assists in predicting yield outcomes. 

In Senegal, satellite imagery has been used to identify areas with the highest agricultural potential. This has aided in optimising land use, thereby ensuring food security and promoting sustainable agriculture practices. 

Navigating the future with satellite navigation systems 

Satellite navigation systems are becoming increasingly crucial in a number of businesses. These systems offer precise location and timing services across various sectors, including logistics, transportation, telecommunications, and emergency services. They’re revolutionising businesses with accurate, real-time data, enhancing operational efficiency and productivity.

Logistics systems, supported by space-based data, can greatly enhance logistics and supply chain management in Rwanda. These systems have the potential to facilitate access to essential goods, particularly in remote and underserved areas.  By 2029, logistics firm Zipline is expected to complete over two million instant deliveries across Rwanda, leveraging space data to broaden its aerial logistics services to additional government sectors, such as health, agriculture, finance, e-commerce, and tourism.  

Opportunities abound for funders invested in the sector 

Louis Moussi, a RIIS consultant involved in space innovation ecosystem development, says that space is no longer only the domain of government, and raising awareness amongst potential funders about the benefits of space-based data is a critical step as countries move into creating interventions to strengthen their space ecosystems.

“Funding is essential and there are powerful opportunities for funders who see linkages with their work or would like to build up the sector,” highlights Moussi. “From development aid agencies to venture capitalists to incubators focused on space,  we welcome broader stakeholders to fund and innovate.” 

As the technology evolves and becomes more accessible, it promises to play an even more significant role in shaping Africa’s future, Moussi explains. “The applications of space technology extend way beyond space exploration and have far-reaching implications on Earth. From agriculture to infrastructure, economic development to disaster management, the applications are vast and impactful. Bolstered by a strong space innovation ecosystem, the potential of space technology can be harnessed to enhance decision-making, drive economic growth, and achieve sustainable development goals.” 

To find out more about space innovation ecosystem development, contact RIIS at