I am a Geographer with a PhD in Geography from the University of Leeds, UK. Currently, I am the professor in Spatial Agriculture and Food Security at the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) of the University of Twente, the Netherlands. I am also head of the Natural Resources Department in ITC.

My academic work uses Earth observation and spatial information for improved food security. The unprecedented availability data allows us to generate new research questions and ideas about the sustainable use of resources for food production, and the resilience of food systems. It also supports the generation of information and datasets that provide more insightful and actionable information about current and future food systems, and I have been active in developing and supporting such open access datasets and models.

See my research page for more info.

More about my background. I am from Swansea, Wales in the UK though I am now a dual UK/NL citizen. I studied Civil Engineering for my Bachelor’s degree (Nottingham, UK), but soon realised that I did not want to build those kinds of bridges and that I was more interested in how everything and everyone is connected and how to understand those connections through maps. After finishing my MSc in Geographic Information Systems (Leicester, UK) in 1997, I worked as a junior research fellow in Colombia at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and started work on my PhD on multiscale analysis of the links between poverty and the environment. This first job experience convinced me to continue working in international research, development, and policy related to agriculture and the environment. I worked for two years at the World Bank in Washington DC in the Development Research Group contributing to several World Development Reports. I spent four years at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission in Italy working on environmental indicators and global accessibility mapping. After that I spent six years as a senior scientist and GIS/RS lab manager at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. I have also worked as a consultant for the United Nations at FAO and UNEP. I joined ITC in 2015.


  • Earth and Planetary Sciences

    • Datum
    • Rice
    • Model
    • Investigation
    • Area
    • Sentinel-2
    • Remote Sensing
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences

    • Crops


I am based in the Natural Resources department at ITC.¬† My work ‚Äď with students and colleagues at ITC and around the world - concerns the following questions that are embedded in some of society‚Äôs greatest challenges.

1 Where, when, and how is food produced?

Crop calendars - showing where and when crops are planted and harvested - are one of the most essential pieces of information for understanding global food availability.  It allows to understand when food is produced, when it is likely to enter into the market and can be used to estimate the impact of disruptions to supply. We work on remote sensing-based methods that can automatically extract information on planting and harvesting dates for specific crops from Earth observation satellite imagery. This example for rice in Asia shows that our methods can be used to develop unique datasets of start and end of season dates (SoS, EoS) covering huge geographic areas and diverse environments and crop management practices [paper]. 

2 How much is produced, what are the risks to production, and how can these risks be mitigated?

Crop production is limited by droughts, excess rainfall and high/low temperatures. These perils are an increasing to risk to many farmers around the world, threatening their livelihoods and food security in general. Colleagues in the NRS department, like Kees de Bie work on geodata models that are actively used in drought peril insurance Ethiopia to insure the pre-season loans of smallholder farmers. Hypertemporal information on vegetation greenness is the basis for determining payouts to insured farmers. This work has been supported by the Netherlands Space Office and the European Commission.

Crop production is also reduced due to crop pests and pathogens and lodging. In a recent global study we estimated that 20 to 30 percent of global food production for five major crops - wheat, rice, maize, potato and soybean - is lost to pathogens and pest. I am also interested in how we can better collect and use information to inform ourselves and act upon crop health issues [link]. Future work will look at how we can couple models of pest epidemics and losses.


3 How do food and people move from A to B and what happens in the event of disruptions or changes to our food transport network infrastructure?

One of my long-term interests is the use of spatial accessibility models to estimate travel time and to do this in a robust way for both local and global analyses. Accessibility is one the dimensions of food security, but it is also an important consideration for understanding the inequality in access to education, healthcare and employment opportunities. I have co-authored several publications [link, link, link, link] on this accompanied by open access datasets and code - and some nice looking maps too :).

These are quite diverse questions, which have evolved from my background in geography, which is like having a licence to study anything, anywhere. My contributions to these research areas have featured in The Economist, New Scientist, Nature, and Science as well as in flagship policy reports for the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). A fuller list is here.

My research is often conducted through the co-supervision of MSc and PhD students, and you can find out more about these exciting projects here.

I serve on the Advisory Board of the journal Food Security where I am also an Associate Editor. I am also an Editorial Board member for Remote Sensing in Agriculture and Vegetation Section for Remote Sensing and an Academic Editor for PeerJ.


Characterizing crop productivity under heat stress using MODIS data, Article 110116, 1-15. Lai, P., Marshall, M., Darvishzadeh, R., Tu, K. & Nelson, A.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agrformet.2024.110116Detection and attribution of cereal yield losses using Sentinel-2 and weather data: A case study in South Australia, 33-52. Duan, K., Vrieling, A., Schlund, M., Nidumolu, U. B., Ratcliff, C., Collings, S. & Nelson, A.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.isprsjprs.2024.05.021Worldwide delineation of multi-tier city‚Äďregions, 469-479. Cattaneo, A., Girgin, S., de By, R. A., McMenomy, T., Nelson, A. D. & Vaz, S.https://doi.org/10.1038/s44284-024-00083-zThe influence of temporal resolution on crop yield estimation with Earth Observation data assimilation, Article 101272 (E-pub ahead of print/First online). Tilahun, B. S., Marshall, M. T., Mengistu, D. & Nelson, A. D.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rsase.2024.101272Enhancing regional estimates of evapotranspiration with earth observation data. University of Twente, Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC). Zhang, L.https://doi.org/10.3990/1.9789036561259Empirical assessments of small-scale ecosystem service flows in rural mosaic landscapes in the Ethiopian highlands, Article 101622, 1-15. Sitotaw, T. M., Willemen, L., Meshesha, D. T. & Nelson, A. D.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2024.101622Annual winter crop distribution from MODIS NDVI timeseries to improve yield forecasts for Europe, Article 103898. Seguini, L., Vrieling, A., Meroni, M. & Nelson, A.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jag.2024.103898Crop growth and yield monitoring in smallholder agricultural systems: a multi-sensor data fusion approach. University of Twente, Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC). Tilahun, B. S.https://doi.org/10.3990/1.9789036560818Sentinel-1 Backscatter Analysis of Ratoon Rice Crops: Example from Ratooning Practice in the Philippines. Fikriyah, V. N., Darvishzadeh, R., Laborte, A. G. & Nelson, A. D.Understanding the effects of bacterial leaf blight on rice spectral signature. Wang, Z., Darvishzadeh, R., Castilla, N. P., Laborte, A. G. & Nelson, A. D.https://is.earsel.org/workshop/13-IS-Valencia2024/

Research profiles

I lecture and supervise MSc students on Food Security in both the M-GEO and Spatial Engineering MSc programmes at ITC, and in the Erasmus+ MSc in Geo-information Science and Earth Observation for Environmental Modelling and Management (GEM).

Affiliated study programs

Courses academic year 2023/2024

Courses in the current academic year are added at the moment they are finalised in the Osiris system. Therefore it is possible that the list is not yet complete for the whole academic year.

Courses academic year 2022/2023

I coordinate several research, education and capacity development projects related to food security and the environment. These are kindly funded by the European Commission, Nuffic, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and FAO.

I have several roles that relate to the three pillars of ITC. With respect to research, I coordinate the research programme within the EENSAT project (Ethiopian Education Network to Support Agricultural Transformation.

I am a member of the Steering Group for the 4TU Centre for Resilience Engineering (4TU RE) in the Netherlands.

I represent ITC in the CGIAR consortium for spatial information.

In terms of education, I am the coordinator of the Erasmus+ MSc in Geo-information Science and Earth Observation for Environmental Modelling and Management (GEM).

I am co-chair for Capacity Development in the Group on Earth Observations Global Agricultural Monitoring Initiative (GEOGLAM).

I am also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


University of Twente

Langezijds (building no. 19), room 1104
Hallenweg 8
7522 NH Enschede

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