Following the tabling of the National Space Policy 2030 at the National Science Council in February, I received a number of queries about the practicality and relevance of a space policy from members of the public.
The Malaysian space policy is far from being anything like the Space Race, a technological supremacy competition between the Soviet Union and the United States in exploring and conquering territories beyond Earth. As I have explained in at least two previous writings, our space policy prioritizes economic returns. In particular, it is a roadmap to enhance our space technological capabilities in three primary areas – remote sensing, communications and satellite navigation.
Agensi Remote Sensing Malaysia (ARSM), a department under the administration of MOSTI, spearheads the remote sensing initiatives as part of the policy. As a federal agency, ARSM has certified, in-house expertise in remote sensing. They are mandated to be the technology provider in remote sensing for all government departments or agencies to help them solve problems.
Remote sensing is the science of gathering information about objects or areas from a distance, usually from a satellite, by detecting the energy reflected from the surface of Earth.
ARSM has been regularly engaging 55 government agencies in the country, including with the Sabah state government, whom they work hand-in-hand with, to develop solutions for their respective fields using remote sensing technologies.
In the management of padi fields, ARSM collaborated with the Sabah Agriculture Department to develop a system called the “Padi Geospatial Management System”, applied at the Integrated Agriculture Development Area (IADA) in Kota Belud to help improve the management of padi fields.
Starting from October this year, when facilitated by remote sensing, 100 per cent of rice fields in Kota Belud can be monitored by the department as frequently as every 10 days, compared to only 60 to 70 per cent and with a longer interval previously. This rice management system is expected to benefit 6,000 farmers, as yields have been proven to increase from 3.5 tonnes per hectare to 6 tonnes.
With its successful implementation in just half a year since the beginning of its development, ARSM and the Sabah Agriculture Department hope to extend this application to Tambunan and Keningau in the near future.
Another application of remotes sensing technologies in partnership with the state government is the Land Use Management System (MyGTS), also developed with the Sabah Agriculture Department. Prior to the deployment of this system in August, the mapping of all land usage areas in Sabah would take five years that has been now reduced to only two years. Specifically, MyGTS would help 44 federal, state and district officers in decision-making when they are consulted by the public in land usage.
The Department of Fisheries Sabah has partnered with ARSM in developing an aquaculture and marine resources management system based on remote sensing technologies. Pioneered in Semporna and Tawau starting May this year, district enforcement personnel under the Department of Fisheries could more efficiently monitor areas for aquaculture, seaweed farming, coral reefs, fishing villages, fisheries industries and environmentally protected ones.
This system is expected to serve and uplift 200 local fisheries and aquaculture businesses by boosting their harvesting and another 70 businesses in their downstream products.
Besides industrial activities, remote sensing technologies can also help the tourism board, the Department of Fisheries and local communities in monitoring “tagal” river zones, where fishing is either limited or completely prohibited. This concept was established by the Babagon riparian community in 1997 to preserve and restore fishes and the surrounding environment of a section of a river.
The employment of space technologies such as remote sensing is more ubiquitous than we thought. ARSM has been regularly conducting technology transfer programs and seminars with state agencies to promote remote sensing to aid their planning, monitoring and mitigation activities. The most recent seminar held with Sabah governmental departments was just last Monday, on 20th November.
More Sabah state agencies should initiate collaboration with ARSM to explore the potentials of remote sensing technologies, through the National Blue Ocean Strategy, which leverages the federal agency’s expertise and resources. This is exactly what I had hoped from science and technology – to help us do more with less; most importantly, its benefits could also be enjoyed by the local community.