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Title: Remote sensing of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan
Author: Simms, Daniel M.
ISNI:       0000 0004 5919 0064
Awarding Body: Cranfield University
Current Institution: Cranfield University
Date of Award: 2016
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This work investigates differences in the survey methodologies of the monitoring programmes of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the US Government that lead to discrepancies in quantitative information about poppy cultivation. The aim of the research is to improve annual estimates of opium production. Scientific trials conducted for the UK Government (2006–2009) revealed differences between the two surveys that could account for the inconsistency in results. These related to the image interpretation of poppy from very high resolution satellite imagery, the mapping of the total area of agriculture and stratification using full coverage medium resolution imagery. MODIS time-series profiles of Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), used to monitor Afghanistan’s agricultural system, revealed significant variation in the agriculture area between years caused by land management practices and expansion into new areas. Image interpretation of crops was investigated as a source of bias within the sample using increasing levels of generalisation in sample interpretations. Automatic segmentation and object-based classification were tested as methods to improve consistency. Generalisation was found to bias final estimates of poppy up to 14%. Segments were consistent with manual field delineations but object-based classification caused a systematic labelling error. The findings show differences in survey estimates based on interpretation keys and the resolution of imagery, which is compounded in areas of marginal agriculture or years with poor crop establishment. Stratified and unstratified poppy cultivation estimates were made using buffered and unbuffered agricultural masks at resolutions of 20, 30 and 60 m, resampled from SPOT-5 10 m data. The number of strata (1, 4, 8, 13, 23, 40) and sample fraction (0.2 to 2%) used in the estimate were also investigated. Decreasing the resolution of the imagery and buffering increased unstratified estimates. Stratified estimates were more robust to changes in sample size and distribution. The mapping of the agricultural area explained differences in cultivation figures of the opium monitoring programmes in Afghanistan. Supporting methods for yield estimation for opium poppy were investigated at field sites in the UK in 2004, 2005 and 2010. Good empirical relationships were found between NDVI and the yield indicators of mature capsule volume and dry capsule yield. The results suggested a generalised relationship across all sampled fields and years (R2 >0.70) during the 3–4 week period including poppy flowering. The application of this approach in Afghanistan was investigated using VHR satellite imagery and yield data from the UNODC’s annual survey. Initial results indicated the potential of improved yield estimates using a smaller and targeted collection of ground observations as an alternative to random sampling. The recommendations for poppy cultivation surveys are: the use of image-based stratification for improved precision and reducing differences in the agricultural mask, and use of automatic segmentation for improved consistency in field delineation of poppy crops. The findings have wider implications for improved confidence in statistical estimates from remote sensing methodologies.
Supervisor: Waine, Toby W. ; Taylor, J. C. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available