SIGMA: Stimulating Innovation for Global Monitoring of Agriculture - AF-EU-15035

Alterra Wageningen UR is participating in SIGMA, building a global map of cropland systems, based one remote sensing and other data sources.

In order to design and develop methods to assess/monitor (longer term) impacts of agricultural dynamics, as a contribution to GEOGLAM, it is important to thoroughly understand the currently used practises at a global scale. The GEO Agriculture Community of Practise describes a number of national and international agricultural monitoring systems, such as EC JRC/MARS (Monitoring Agricultural Resources), FAO/GIEWS (Global Information and Early Warning System), China’s CropWatch, and the USDA FAS (Foreign Agricultural Service).

In generic terms, most of these systems have a combined approach using time series of satellite and meteorological data, a “static” crop map mask, agro-meteorological models and a statistical tool box, resulting in within-season crop yield estimates, area estimates and production forecasts. As a consequence, little attention is given to pluri-annual changes such as shifts in cultivation practises (intensification), expansion or abandonment of agricultural land (expansion or shrinking). Both intensification and expansion of agricultural land  are the primary focus of SIGMA. The figure below illustrates the overall concept of SIGMA’s innovation and research activities in relation to “short term” agricultural monitoring and “long term” sustainability concerns of agriculture and related cultivation practises.

As such, SIGMA has three main objectives:

  • Identify, map and assess agriculture and crop land changes, globally, regionally and locally
  • Identify, map and assess changes in agricultural production levels and shifts in cultivation practises
  • Identify, map and analyze environmental impacts of Agriculture and cultivation practices


The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) was launched at the 2002 Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa. Its main vision is to build a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) through a coordination of remote sensing activities around the globe. As one of its strategic targets GEO aims to advance sustainable agriculture. The G20 launched in June 2011 the “Global Agricultural Geo-Monitoring” (GEOGLAM) and the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) initiatives. The main objective of GEOGLAM is to improve crop forecasts to increase transparency on agricultural production through the creation of an operational global agricultural monitoring “system of systems” based on earth observation and in situ data.

SIGMA is part of Europe’s contribution to GEOGLAM, actively networking expert organizations world-wide, in a common effort to enhance current remote sensing based agricultural monitoring techniques. Its aim is to develop innovative methods and indicators to monitor and assess progress towards “sustainable agriculture”, focussed on the assessment of longer term impact of agricultural dynamics on the environment and vice versa.

SIGMA implements activities in Europe, Russia, Ukraine, China, Vietnam, Africa, Argentina and Brazil and is financed through the EC’s Research Framework programme (FP7).