How NASA data is helping rice farmers save on fuel and water

Rice is a staple food for millions of people in Bangladesh, but growing it requires a lot of water and energy.
Rizwan Choudhury
Satellite orbiting Earth stock photo.
Representational image of a satellite orbiting Earth.

Credits: janiecbros/iStock 

Bangladesh is one of the world’s most densely populated countries. The nation largely depends on rice as its staple food. Growing rice requires a lot of water and energy, especially during the dry season from January to June, when farmers rely on pumping groundwater from aquifers. This results in heavy depletion of the groundwater level additionally contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

To address this challenge, researchers from the University of Washington and Bangladesh’s Ministry of Agriculture have developed a system that uses satellite data from NASA and its partners to advise farmers on how much water they need for their crops. According to a recent press release by NASA on Thursday, the system is called IRAS.


IRAS stands for Integrated Rice Advisory System. It analyzes data from the NASA/USGS Landsat mission, the NASA/JAXA Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission, and the U.S. National Weather Service’s Global Forecast System (GFS) to provide weekly irrigation advisories to more than 10 million farmers across Bangladesh.

How NASA data is helping rice farmers save on fuel and water
One of the many IRAS outputs that are routinely generated during the dry season at biweekly frequency using NASA data.

The IRAS team estimates that the system can help reduce agricultural water waste by about 30 percent, cut fuel consumption by 45 percent, save $115 million annually in fuel subsidies, and lower carbon emissions by 300,000 tons per year. IRAS is an example of how global cooperation and sharing of crucial data among nations can help improve food security, water management, and environmental protection around the world.

“The synergistic use of Landsat, GPM, and GFS can help the world become more water-efficient and energy-efficient in growing food, while also becoming more affordable and convenient for farmers,” said Faisal Hossain, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington and leader of IRAS.

Combining satellite data

IRAS works by combining satellite data on water use, precipitation, and weather forecasts with crop water demand characteristics to generate location-specific advisories for farmers. The advisories inform farmers how much water they have, how much they are using, and how much they need for their crops. They also alert farmers if they have over- or under-irrigated their fields in the past.

The IRAS team completed its first nationwide effort in June 2023, after working with staff from Bangladesh’s Department of Agricultural Extension and Agro-Meteorological Information Service to develop and install the system.

Hossain and his colleagues hope to expand the reach of IRAS in the future, as well as apply it to other water-intensive crops such as sugar cane. “Our hope is that this template can be applied to any region where we know what crop is being grown and what their crop water demand characteristics are,” Hossain said.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board