EDINBURGH University will harness space technology to help farmers in Africa grow more crops thanks to a £200,000 funding package from the UK Government.

Through the UK Space Agency, five projects will receive a cash boost specifically designed to combine business expertise with university research to help build space solutions to global problems.

One of the projects, run by the University of Edinburgh, will help Malawian farmers by developing land-use maps, which will show how their land is currently being used and assist them in planning for large-scale agriculture.  

Amanda Solloway, the UK Science Minister, said: “The UK’s space sector is flourishing and it is vital we give our most innovative space businesses and universities the right support to collaborate, share best practice and drive forward new ideas that could help enrich all our lives. 

“Today’s funding will provide lift off to some of the country’s most ambitious space collaborations, including Edinburgh’s own Trade in Space, which will develop a unique land classification map to help grow more crops.”

Iain Stewart, the Scotland Office Minister, said the UK Government-funded project was an example of how space innovation could solve important global problems and Scottish researchers were playing a "key role" in helping Malawian farmers plan for the future.

“Continued UK Government investment into the space sector will cement the UK as a global leader in space. The latest figures show the Scottish space industry now employs close to 8,000 people and generates nearly £254 million to the economy,” he added.

Overall, the UK space sector is thriving, generating an income of £14.8 billion and employing 42,000 people. 

Trade in Space and Geospace Agricultural are collaborating with Edinburgh University’s School of Geosciences to support the generation of a land-use classification map of key agricultural production regions of Malawi. 

This, insisted the Government, would be a vital tool that could enable effective planning of large-scale agriculture in the region, following the model set by the ‘Jacoma Estates’ mega-farm in the area, which has already provided productivity improving micro-financing, and a route to market for over 5,000 Malawian smallholder farmers. 

The UK Space Agency funding will see the national Space Research and Innovation Network for Technology[SPRINT] support the new space projects with industry working alongside scientists from the University of Edinburgh. 

Robin Sampson, head of the Edinburgh-based Trade in Space, said: “SPRINT and the UK Space Agency have given us a fantastic opportunity to create the tools to achieve real positive impact on sustainable agricultural productivity in Malawi. 

“We’re also excited to have the opportunity to continue to work with strategic partners Geospace Agricultural and the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh.” 

SPRINT provides unprecedented access to university space expertise and facilities to help businesses develop new commercial products. 

The scheme has previously supported 87 collaborative projects with 70 companies, developing space hardware or using space-enabled data and transferring space know-how and expertise to develop products destined for non-space use.