Starling or technological innovation in the service of the forest

Defence Airbus and Space, The Forest Trust (TFT) and SarVision have jointly developed an innovative service that allows food and beverage companies to provide evidence of the implementation of their commitments to environmental protection and more specifically the fight against deforestation. After 14 months of development, this technology is in service with two pilot customers, Ferrero and Nestlé, and will be commercialised in early 2017. For the first time, this type of technology will be made available to companies to help them make the right decisions and deliver on the promises set out in their forest conservation policies.
Ahe service is called Starling and uses a combination of high-resolution optical and radar satellite imagery. Nestlé and Ferrero, two giants in the food industry, have agreed to be "pilot customers" for this technological innovation to prove their commitment to supply chain control and traceability, while combating deforestation. 
This service developed by Airbus Defence and Space, SarVision and The Forest Trust, called Starling, combines high-resolution optical satellite imagery and radar to provide objective observation of forest cover change. With this satellite, Nestlé and Ferrero can follow the food chain, especially palm oil plantations, where demand is growing at a rate of 3% per year. Its technical properties make it indispensable in many processed products: infant milk, soups, soaps, detergents, etc. A craze that has as a corollary a sometimes irresponsible exploitation, source of deforestation.
The partnership between Airbus Defence and specialists in space remote sensing, TFT and SarVision radar began in 2015. Airbus Defense and Space is responsible for activating its satellites, pre-processing the imagery and distributing the service worldwide. TFT's experience in land-use planning and forestry and SarVision's expertise in radar image analysis complete the design of the solution. Complex and expert satellite data is transformed into information that can be directly used and understood by agribusinesses.

Deforestation : State of play

80 % of deforestation is due to agriculture. However, from 2010 to 2015, the area of forests (natural and planted) has decreased each year by 0.08 %, compared to 0.18 % between 1990 and 2000, according to a five-year report on the state of forests by the FAO, noting a slowdown in the rate of deforestation over the past 25 years: "Even though globally the extent of forests continues to decline as population growth and increased demand for food and land continue, the rate of net forest loss has fallen by more than 50 %," the study, published every five years, says. "However, this positive trend needs to be consolidated, especially in countries that are lagging behind. » (Source Le Monde).
Deforestation is far from being a solution to feed humanity. On the contrary, deforestation risks undermining agriculture in the long term, since forests are naturally useful for surrounding crops.
Even though the area available for cultivation is becoming more and more limited, the solution is not to create space by clearing the forest cover, but to optimize this space to ensure yields.
The focus is on the agro-industry, which is particularly flourishing in Latin America and South-East Asia, and which for several decades has been supplying the world market with corn and soybeans (Brazilian, Argentinean, etc.) for European livestock farming, meat for North American fast-foods, palm oil (Indonesian, Malaysian, Nigerian, etc.) for the food and cosmetics industry, wood pulp and cellulose for papermaking, etc. The industry is also a major source of food and cosmetics for the European market. The expansion of the whole sector - and consequently the pressure on forests - is boosted today by the growing demand for agrofuels, which are themselves derived, in their various forms, from most of these intensive crops, whether they are oil crops (soya, palm oil...), rich in sugar (corn, cane...) or others (cellulose...). The World Rainforest Movement, the main global coalition of organizations mobilized against deforestation, rightly speaks of the creation of "green deserts" in connection with the extension of this type of highly profitable production, but whose negative externalities, in terms of pollution, land depletion, water consumption, contamination of water tables and the food chain ..., are at best symbolically compensated for by the big names in agribusiness. (Source:
While this industry generates important profits for producer states and large national and transnational agribusiness groups, the logic and effects of its dominant mode of production open up serious impasses. These deadlocks go beyond the issue of deforestation to include the issue of food security.
Mette Loyche Wilkie, responsible for the implementation of environmental policies at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), acknowledges that "... the EU has a responsibility to ensure that its environmental policies are implemented in a sustainable manner. Multinationals are increasingly committing themselves to sell only products that are not closely or remotely linked to deforestation, they know that this is a growing risk to their reputation". Like Unilever and Cargill who were the first to get involved, joined by many multinationals such as L'Oréal, or the palm oil giant Wilmar.

Towards a virtuous dynamic

So how do we move forward on the road to "zero deforestation"? For Héloïse d'Huart, project manager of The Forest Trust, it is necessary to "encourage the players in the sector to make commitments. As Ferrero did with its Charter. Then accompany suppliers and producers in the field to find pragmatic and economically viable solutions with them, and set up action plans to move towards responsible practices".
This is the approach chosen by Ferrero for Nutella. In the name of a broader concept of quality. « Quality is not only about taste, freshness and food safety. It is also the impact of our products on the environment and local communities. At Ferrero, we are historically very vigilant about the traceability of our supplies, it's in our DNA. This is what led us to launch, in 2005, our approach to sustainable palm oil. testified Aldo Cristiano, Ferrero's Raw Materials Purchasing Manager.
This process was rolled out in several stages: joining the RSPO, choosing the highest level of RSPO (segregated palm oil) certification, launching the Nutella charter and partnership with The Forest Trust, participation in the POIG. "Today, our 22 industrial sites are supplied with 100% of RSPO segregated palm oil". confirmed Aldo Cristiano. 
But isn't the RSPO label questionable, since it only takes into account the destruction of primary forests? And why should we still deforest since there are large reserves of degraded land for planting? In response to these legitimate remarks from Pierric Jammes, Ferrero's procurement manager, Ferrero, recalled that Nutella has gone beyond the RSPO standard since 2013. "Our charter covers ten commitments that are as many environmental and social requirements. We went to explain them to our suppliers - planters, mills, refineries - so that they can now guide their practices. We maintain an ongoing dialogue with them and implement corrective actions when problems are identified. he explained.
The Nutella Charter is based on the High Carbon Stock multi-criteria approach, which is now the reference for defining the forests that must be protected, particularly for their carbon wealth and biodiversity, and those that can be converted to another use, particularly agricultural, because they do not have the capacity to regenerate. To ensure the deployment of its charter right down to the plantations, Ferrero relies on the association The Forest Trust, whose actors on the ground accompany the stakeholders in its supply chain in this transformation. 
Encouraging and supporting suppliers to adopt responsible practices is essential. But it is also necessary to be able to verify that commitments are being met. This means knowing what is happening on the ground in near real time.
"This is the next step in Nutella's sustainable palm oil journey."announced Aldo Cristiano. It will rely on a very innovative tool: Starling. The advantages of this tool are numerous if we believe the explanations provided by Patrick Houdry: "satellite images don't cheat. They are objective data that allow comparisons in time and space. They show changes in forest cover and allow stakeholders to reflect together based on a shared observation. They capture the warning signs of deterioration of natural areas, on the scale of a plantation, the supply basin of an oil mill or a refinery.. The tool is flexible: the frequency of monitoring can be adapted to the challenges of each geographical area and each plantation. 
"We are scouting and when we change the practices of our suppliers, we believe that this transformation will have an impact on their entire production," says Aldo Cristiano.

Plantation monitoring

 "Starling is a revolutionary service." said Bastien Sachet, Director of the non-profit organization TFT, which is dedicated to global social and environmental issues. "Not only does it provide unprecedented accuracy by combining 1.5m resolution SPOT imagery with cloud cover-independent radar data, but it also goes beyond the traditional concept of 'auditing'.
Until now, brands and producers have had no choice but to use auditing firms, Airbus Defense and Space explains, to verify their "zero deforestation" commitments. But they were not always able to access all forest areas.
This is the first time that such technology has been made available to companies, from producers to major international brands, to help them make the right decisions and deliver on the promises made in their forest conservation policies. With this satellite, Nestlé and Ferrero can now monitor the evolution of the plantations that supply them with palm oil, thanks to zooms of up to one and a half metres from the ground.
Bernhard Brenner, Head of the Business Intelligence Group at Airbus Defence and Space said: " Most companies strive to do the right thing, and Starling's goal is to give them the real ability to do it. Our satellite constellation gives them a reliable tool to track and verify their actions and better protect the world's resources. »
However, auditors do not have the opportunity to obtain a global view of the situation because they do not have access to all forest areas and spend only a limited number of days in the field. Spatial imagery is a powerful alternative that provides complete, unbiased and cost-effective information in real time and makes it easy to distinguish between replanting and deforestation. It enables companies to better manage their activities, make informed decisions and prove to their buyers and consumers that they are meeting their commitments.
Despite the major innovation represented by the ability to verify compliance with the zero deforestation commitments by satellite and radar with the Starling project, on our individual scale, fighting deforestation can mean reassessing our consumption patterns: a large majority of the products we use every day contain materials directly from forest exploitation. We must therefore pay attention to what is contained in the products we buy, so that we do not become players in this scourge.

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