Airbus’ Starling initiative: Can it reduce deforestation in Southeast Asia?

Image courtesy of Airbus.

Airbus has announced the official launch of its Starling initiative, which aims to verify that companies are honouring their “No Deforestation” commitments, and to encourage them to do so. The launch will take place on 29 June 2017 with a live webinar for interested parties.

A partnership between aerospace giant Airbus, non-profit organisation The Forest Trust (TFT) and satellite imagery firm SarVision, the initiative provides unprecedented accuracy in monitoring forests and crops, and is able to distinguish between crop types, replanting, and deforestation.

Starling will utilize 1.5m SPOT images and radar from Airbus’ satellites to cut through cloud cover, thus promoting accurate data regardless of weather conditions. This will enable companies to verify the results of their “No Deforestation” commitments, and enables them to demonstrate how they manage their operations and reward best practices.

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The initiative comes as a result of the inadequacies of current methods of conventional certification; today, most methods rely on field inspections that are inefficient and inaccurate. Starling, on the other hand, will provide frequently-updated and precise images which allow for better awareness of on-the-ground situations.

In this collaboration, Airbus will be responsible for tasking its satellites, producing the Starling reports and distributing the service. TFT will provide its experience in forestry management and land use planning in agricultural and wood production areas, while SarVision’s expertise in radar imagery analysis will complement the design of the solution.

Starling was tested during a 6-month pilot scheme, with Ferrero and Nestlé’s palm oil supply chains.

“Ferrero is continuously committed to finding innovative solutions able to support our efforts towards a more sustainable development,” said Aldo Cristiano, Director Global Procurement Raw Materials and Group Sustainability for Ferrero. “With this in mind, and building on our achievement of 100 percent traceability of our palm oil supply to mill and 98.5 percent to plantation, Ferrero started piloting the Starling service over a few selected plantations. The first results are very positive. We are confident this could be the start of a successful journey in verifying the implementation of our No Deforestation policy”.

Although the initiative will be useful throughout the world, it is of particular relevance to Southeast Asia; the region is home to Indonesia and Malaysia, the two largest palm oil producers in the world. The region also experiences drastic deforestation due to slash-and-burn agriculture and illegal logging, which not only impacts biodiversity, but which also causes severe haze problems, health hazards and political tension.

Both Sarvision and TFT are already working in various countries in Southeast Asia. Between 2013-2014, for example, Sarvision promoted space applications to users in the palm oil industry in Indonesia, while TFT has teamed up with the Center of Social Excellence Indonesia encourage better management of natural resources.

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