SA’s space agency has its eyes on Africa and a new memorandum of understanding with the AU’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) paves the way for it to expand its footprint. But it takes more than data to create evidence-based policy.

The agreement, signed in April, will see the South African National Space Agency (Sansa) provide Earth observation products and services to Nepad.

Africa is the second-largest continent and its size and paucity of infrastructure makes it difficult efficiently and cost-effectively to detect changes in natural resources and land usage. Governments, business and landowners can use satellites to identify these changes and to compile data that they can use to guide their decision-making and policies.

“It’s increasingly apparent that quality and legitimate data and information is one of the most valuable resources in Africa’s development agenda,” says Martin Bwalya, a senior adviser at Nepad.

“Space science and Earth observation capacities are critical in generating information that directly affects development initiatives.”

Sansa — which has been in existence for seven years and has no satellite of its own — buys all of its satellite imagery through agreements with other countries. The memorandum of understanding “enables Sansa to provide Earth observation products and services that support the implementation of key programmes, such as sustainable agriculture and food security, integrated water resources management, as well as urban planning and infrastructure monitoring”, says Paida Mangara, acting MD of Sansa’s Earth observations unit…