Institute at Brown for Environment and SocietyIBES

Measuring economic well-being from space

May 5, 2017
IBES 015

Speaker: Marshall Burke, Stanford University

Most developing countries collect little or no data on local-level economic wellbeing, which makes it difficult to evaluate development interventions and to target assistance to those most in need.  Here we demonstrate how new high-resolution satellite imagery can be used to measure both smallholder agricultural productivity and asset wealth at a granular level.  For the agricultural productivity measurements, using multiple seasons of data from Kenya, we show that plot-level satellite-based estimates of productivity are roughly as accurate as traditional survey based measures. For the wealth measurements, we use data from five African countries and show how a neural network can be trained to identify features that can explain up to 75% of the variation in local-level economic outcomes. Both approaches are inexpensive and scalable, and together could accelerate efforts to understand and improve economic well-being in poor regions. 

Marshall Burke is assistant professor in the Department of Earth System Science, and Center Fellow at the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford University. His research focuses on social and economic impacts of environmental change, and on the economics of rural development in Africa. His work has appeared in both economics and scientific journals, including recent publications in Nature, Science, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Review of Economics and Statistics. He holds a PhD in Agricultural and Resource Economics from UC Berkeley, and a BA in International Relations from Stanford.
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