UK: Cranfield University has developed remote sensing (RS) survey techniques for monitoring opium poppy. The technique has proved effective in accurately monitoring opium poppy production in Afghanistan – responsible for 90 per cent of the supply of the illegal crop in the world.
As a lead nation on counter-narcotics policy formulation and providing support to the Government of Afghanistan, the UK has a particular interest in opium poppy control in Afghanistan, which is said to supply almost all heroin consumption in the UK.
In 2003, it was identified that the quantitative information about the trends and production of opium gathered annually by both the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the US government were different and often contradictory. Cranfield University was tasked by the UK government to carry out an independent review of the survey techniques employed at the time. This included conducting full scale poppy cultivation surveys in key provinces to study differences in their approaches.
This research was used to promote technical discussions between survey teams and recommend changes to survey methodologies. This finally led to,in 2007, remote sensing based verification of the success of poppy eradication schemes undertaken as part of the Government of Afghanistan’s National Drug Control Strategy.
Cranfield initially employed aerial remote sensing techniques using high resolution digital imagery to map poppy and cereal fields and measure the extent of eradicated poppy fields. However, on-going security issues prevented flying over key areas where poppy fields were planted. Cranfield therefore evolved alternative methods using high resolution satellite imagery integrated with medium resolution imagery from the Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) satellites and streamlined their methods based on the timing of poppy flowering to optimise imagery acquisition. Resulting reports provided invaluable data for policy development and planning the necessary action to be taken.
Source: Cranfield University