Dr Hanns-Christoph Eiden
The Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (BLE) regulates the agricultural products market in Germany. BLE President Dr Hanns-Christoph Eiden explains how geoinformatics helps in effective surveillance of the EU agricultural subsidies, and in managing the volatility in commodity prices
What is the mandate of the German Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (BLE) and what are its core activities?
The Federal Office of Agriculture and Food is responsible for all the tasks which fall within the scope of the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). In particular, the Federal Office, an agency of the Common Market Organisations within the European Union, regulates the German markets for a number of crops and agricultural products. The office issues licences for cross-border trade of goods and services produced by the food, agricultural and forest industries. The BLE supports the BMELV in issues related to international cooperation on global food security. Recently, we have started coordinating with the German Federal States for the implementation of Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) for the surveillance of the EU agricultural subsidies. We are also involved in setting up a centre for geoinformatics and remote sensing.
How does the BLE use geospatial technologies such as GIS and remote sensing?
The amount of EU agricultural aid payments is mostly based on the size of the area for which the aid is claimed, often in combination with other commitments or compliance requirements, for example, concerning the use of the land, the preservation of certain landscape features and so on. The determination of area size is done by using GNSS-devices for measurements or by aerial-based or space-based remote sensing.
Our new centre for geoinformatics and remote sensing is currently engaged with the implementation of the INSPIREDirective, an initiative of the European Commission which aims at establishing an infrastructure for spatial information in Europe. The implementation of INSPIRE has a welcome side effect: the evaluation of our existing geodata and the possible extension of their use and visualisation.
The geodata infrastructure for Germany (GDI DE) revolves around our Web-based portal GDI BMELV (www. gdi.bmelv.de), and we plan to put the INSPIRE metadata on this to make it available to all concerned. We also plan to equip our Web portals with dynamic map viewers. The new centre is developing ideas to integrate the use of remote sensing into the work of the BLE.
Market regulating agencies in developing countries are slowly gaining strength but awareness about the benefits of location technology is still lacking in these parts of the world. Your comments.
In times of high commodity prices and volatility, surveillance of the agricultural production process is important for all countries. Location technology, like GIS and aerial-based or space-based remote sensing techniques, are helpful tools for achieving food and nutrition security and a sustainable agricultural production for all countries, whether developed, emerging or developing.
I think the application of GIS and remote sensing technologies in developing countries is continuously evolving. In recent years, the dissemination of GIS and remote sensing techniques in developing countries has been promoted widely by various international aid projects. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) supported by USAID and the Global Food Security Service (GMFS) initiated by European Space Agency (ESA) are two good examples. Programmes such as GEOGLAM, an international initiative for global agricultural monitoring, and Asia-Rice Crop Estimation and Monitoring, a rice monitoring project in different Asian countries, have proved to be helpful. The use of remote sensing techniques in developing countries will increase with the improvement in technology transfer and easy access to satellite imagery.
You have served in the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. How, in your opinion, can precision farming meet the growing demand for food production?
On the one hand, there is a demand for an increased agricultural production. On the other, essential resources like fossil energy, water and biodiversity are becoming rare. It clearly means that the agricultural production has to become sustainable and resource-saving. Precision farming could help in achieving this goal. With precision farming the inherent heterogeneity of agricultural fields is recognised and the specific crop requirements, such as the need for water, fertilisers or agrochemicals, become easy and cost effective. It promises to benefit both farmers and the consumer.