Does drip irrigation lead to real water savings? What is the impact of changing the irrigation efficiency on basin scale water flows? How can water managers implement water savings technologies that lead to real water savings? Several of such questions were discussed during a recent webinar.

FutureWater in collaboration with the FAO Near East and North Africa Regional Office provided this webinar on Real Water Savings. The various tools developed under the on-going FAO project (https://www.futurewater.eu/projects/training-package-for-water-productivity-and-real-water-savings/) were presented. Its relevance for the Near East and North Africa region was demonstrated by showcasing several case studies of water savings technologies (such as drip irrigation) and using the newly developed Excel-based REWAS tool to provide an assessment of field and basin scale water saved. The webinar ended with a lively discussion on the applicability of these tools for the Near East and North Africa region context. We look forward to following up on several of the opportunities and issues raised during this discussion.

Screenshot of the webinar, with our colleagues Jonna van Opstal and Peter Droogers

The APSAN-Vale Flying Sensor portal, part of the APSAN-Vale project to show outcomes of the project to the public, has received a major update with some new and very useful functionalities. The project, which started in 2018, is piloting innovations to increase the water productivity and food security for climate resilient smallholder agriculture in the Zambezi valley of Mozambique. It will demonstrate what the best combinations are of adoption strategies and technological packages, with the largest overall impact in terms of water productivity, both at the plot-level, sub-basin as well as basin-level.

The main role of FutureWater is monitoring water productivity in target areas using an innovative approach of Flying Sensors (drones), a water productivity simulation model and field observations. Flying sensors provide high resolution imagery, which is suitable for distinguishing the different fields and management practices existent in smallholder farming. For this purpose, a local team of FutureWater flying sensor operators, have been trained at the end of 2018. Ever since, the operators perform regular flights over farmers’ fields using flying sensors that have cameras which can measure the reflection of near-infrared light, as well as visible red light. These two parameters are used to calculate the crop performance, resulting in maps showing the vegetation status (the greener the color, the better the crop is performing), with a resolution of about 2 cm/pixel. This information is used both for monitoring the water productivity of the selected fields and determining areas of high or low water productivity. Information on the spatial variation of water productivity can assist with the selection of technical packages to introduce and implement in the field.

About the portal

The APSAN-Vale Flying Sensor portal contains most of the flying sensor data collected within the APSAN Vale project. Flying sensor maps are uploaded to the portal automatically after they have been processed by the local FutureWater operators. In this way, the operating team can easily access the maps in the field to observe areas of higher or lower water productivity, by using a tablet, laptop or smartphone. Also, field agents of project implementing partners Resilience and HUB can access the maps in-field to provide useful advisory to farmers to prevent crop loss and increase their water productivity. Farmers are also able to view the maps themselves and alter their farm management decisions.

Updates

The newly updated portal consists of some very useful new information and options:

  • It now has a “Export to PDF” button which will automatically generate a PDF-file with a screenshot of the map that is loaded, including the comments, information about the farm and a weather forecast for the next 7 days. This is very useful for operators to bring to the farmers to also help them with their farm management.
  • As mentioned above, the portal now contains a new page (tab) with information of the farm. Information consists of planting date of crops, crop types, field numbers and name of the farmer. It is not only possible to just view the information, but also the latest information can be added to the portal! This makes it possible for the portal to be potentially used as a small database for each farm where all the necessary information is stored.
  • Water productivity maps of the 2019 rainfed season are now included, showing the water productivity and water productivity increase of the different farm and fields in this season.
  • High resolution RBG images are now also included in the portal. These aerial images have a resolution of 20 cm, much higher than the average satellite imagery available.
  • The latest available processed data is added to the portal.

Future plans

For now only images of the past growing season have been added to the portal. Soon, the following improvements will be made to the portal:

  • All images taken and (water productivity) maps made during the complete project period will be added.
  • Apart from the Vegetation Status, Visual flying sensor images and Water Productivity maps, canopy cover maps will also be added.
  • The portal will be continuously tested in the field in Mozambique.
Screenshot of the updated APSAN-Vale Flying Sensor Portal.

Today FutureWater launched a portal for flying sensor imagery taken in Mozambique as part of the APSAN-Vale project. The project, which started in 2018, is piloting innovations to increase the water productivity and food security for climate resilient smallholder agriculture in the Zambezi valley of Mozambique. It will demonstrate what the best combinations are of adoption strategies and technological packages, with the largest overall impact in terms of water productivity, both at the plot-level, sub-basin as well as basin-level.

The main role of FutureWater is monitoring water productivity in target areas using an innovative approach of Flying Sensors (drones), a water productivity simulation model and field observations. Flying sensors provide high resolution imagery, which is suitable for distinguishing the different fields and management practices existent in smallholder farming. For this purpose, a local team of FutureWater flying sensor operators, have been trained at the end of 2018. Ever since, the operators perform regular flights over farmers’ fields using flying sensors that have cameras which can measure the reflection of near-infrared light, as well as visible red light. These two parameters are used to calculate the crop performance, resulting in maps showing the vegetation status (the greener the color, the better the crop is performing), with a resolution of about 2 cm/pixel. This information is used both for monitoring the water productivity of the selected fields and determining areas of high or low water productivity. Information on the spatial variation of water productivity can assist with the selection of technical packages to introduce and implement in the field.

About the portal

Now, all vegetation status maps can be found in an online portal, which can be accessed through futurewater.eu/apsanvaleportal. The flying sensor maps are uploaded to the portal automatically after they have been processed by the local FutureWater operators. In this way, the operating team can easily access the maps in the field to observe areas of higher or lower water productivity, by using a tablet, laptop or smartphone. Also, field agents of project implementing partners Resilience and HUB can access the maps in-field to provide useful advisory to farmers to prevent crop loss and increase their water productivity. Farmers are also able to view the maps themselves and alter their farm management decisions.

Screenshot of the APSAN-Vale Flying Sensor Portal, showing the option to select a map on the left side, the vegetation status map in de middle and some example comments in the right section.
Screenshot of the APSAN-Vale Flying Sensor Portal, showing the option to select a map on the left side, the vegetation status map in de middle and some example comments in the right section.

On the left side a map can be selected by choosing a district, farmer, season, map type and date. In the middle of the screen the map will be shown and the user is able to zoom in and out and change the background layer in the top right. In the right section comments can be added to specific maps. This tool is extremely useful for operators and field agents to note down field observations and advisory that has been given to the farmer. The images and comments act as a database and can be used to draw information from in future farm visits.

Future plans

For now only images of the past growing season have been added to the portal. Over the course of the next few weeks the following improvements will be made to the portal:

  • All images taken during the complete project period will be added.
  • Apart from the Vegetation Status maps, also Visual flying sensor images and Water Productivity maps will be added.
  • A function to export the maps, comments, weather data and market prices to a printable pdf will be added.
  • The portal will be continuously tested in the field in Mozambique.

The scope of the project work is as follows:

  • Train selected NCBA Clusa PROMAC staff on drone operation, imagery processing software, and crop monitoring;
  • Provide technical assistance to trained NCBA Clusa staff on drone operation, imagery processing, and interpretation of crop monitoring data;
  • Present technical reports on crop development and land productivity (i.e. crop yield) at the end of the rainy and dry season

The trainings and technical assistance for the NCBA Clusa staff are provided in collaboration with project partners HiView (The Netherlands) and ThirdEye Limitada (Central Mozambique). Technical staff of the NCBA Clusa are trained in using the Flying Sensors (drones) in making flights, processing and interpreting the vegetation status camera images. This camera makes use of the Near-Infrared wavelength to detect stressed conditions in the vegetation. Maps of the vegetation status are used in the field (with an app) to determine the causes of the stressed conditions: water shortage, nutrient shortage, pests or diseases, etc. This information provides the NCBA Clusa technical staff and extension workers with relevant spatial information to assist their work in providing tailored information to local farmers.

At the end of the growing season the flying sensor images are compiled to report on the crop development. The imagery in combination with a crop growth simulation model is used to calculate the crop yield and determine the magnitude of impact the conservation agriculture interventions have in contrast with traditional agricultural practices.

In irrigated agriculture options to save water tend to focus on improved irrigation techniques such as drip and sprinkler irrigation. These irrigation techniques are promoted as legitimate means of increasing water efficiency and “saving water” for other uses (such as domestic use and the environment). However, a growing body of evidence, including a key report by FAO (Perry and Steduto, 2017) shows that in most cases, water “savings” at field scale translate into an increase in water consumption at system and basin scale. Yet despite the growing and irrefutable body of evidence, false “water savings” technologies continue to be promoted, subsidized and implemented as a solution to water scarcity in agriculture.

The goal is to stop false “water savings” technologies to be promoted, subsidized and implemented. To achieve this, it is important to quantify the hydrologic impacts of any new investment or policy in the water sector. Normally, irrigation engineers and planners are trained to look at field scale efficiencies or irrigation system efficiencies at the most. Also, many of the tools used by irrigation engineers are field scale oriented (e.g. FAO AquaCrop model). The serious consequences of these actions are to worsen water scarcity, increase vulnerability to drought, and threaten food security.

There is an urgent need to develop simple and pragmatic tools that can evaluate the impact of field scale crop-water interventions at larger scales (e.g. irrigation systems and basins). Although basin scale hydrological models exist, many of these are either overly complex and unable to be used by practitioners, or not specifically designed for the upscaling from field interventions to basin scale impacts. Moreover, achieving results from the widely-used FAO models such as AquaCrop into a basin-wide impact model is time-consuming, complex and expensive. Therefore, FutureWater is developing a simple but robust tool to enhance usability and reach, transparency, transferability in data input and output. The tool is based on proven concepts of water productivity, water accounting and the appropriate water terminology, as promoted by FAO globally (FAO, 2013). Hence, the water use is separated in consumptive use, non-consumptive use, and change in storage (see Figure).

Separation of water use according to the FAO terminology.

A complete training package is developed which includes a training manual and an inventory of possible field level interventions. The training manual includes the following aspects: 1) introduce and present the real water savings tool, 2) Describe the theory underlying the tool and demonstrating some typical applications, 3) Learn how-to prepare the data required for the tool for your own area of interest, 4) Learn when real water savings occur at system and basin scale with field interventions.

On 15 March 2019 Cyclone Idai hit the coast of Mozambique causing devastating damage and severe flooding in the region. The APSAN-Vale project, which is implemented in the Beira Agricultural Growth Corridor of Mozambique, is working closely with rural farming communities in the region affected by Cyclone Idai. The project team are searching ways to actively aid the affected population. FutureWater and Hiview have trained local drone operators stationed in Chimoio for this project to monitor crop water productivity of smallholder farming. During the aftermath of Cyclone Idai and the severe flooding, the team of operators was mobilised to assist the INGC (Instituto Nacional de Gestão de Calamidades) in their rescue missions on 23-24 March 2019. They used drone imagery to localize stranded communities in areas that are inaccessible by road transport. This information was used to improve the routing of the rescue boats for food supply and evacuation.

Localization of people in a dire situation without food or shelter, needing evacuation.

The imagery made during the flights also indicated the extent of flooding. The map below shows the river in average conditions (on the background image) and the current situation with the river expanding up to 250 meters in width. Large areas of cropland and residences of the rural communities are destroyed and remain still flooded.

Images acquired during the flight indicating flooded areas.
The team of operators in orange (Aurio Francisco, Muidine Ahamada, and Edilson Chiziane).

For smallholder farming systems, there is a huge potential to increase water productivity by improved (irrigated) water management, better access to inputs and agronomical knowledge and improved access to markets. An assessment of the opportunities to boost the water productivity of the various agricultural production systems in Mozambique is a fundamental precondition for informed planning and decision-making processes concerning these issues. Methodologies need to be employed that will result in an overall water productivity increase, by implementing tailored service delivery approaches, modulated into technological packages that can be easily adopted by Mozambican smallholder farmers. This will not only improve the agricultural (water) productivity and food security for the country on a macro level but will also empower and increase the livelihood of Mozambican smallholder farmers on a micro level through climate resilient production methods.

This pilot project aims at identifying, validating and implementing a full set of complementary Technological Packages (TP) in the Zambezi Valley, that can contribute to improve the overall performance of the smallholders’ farming business by increasing their productivity, that will be monitored at different scales (from field to basin). The TPs will cover a combination of improvement on water, irrigation, and agronomical management practices strengthened by improved input and market access. The goal is to design TPs that are tailored to the local context and bring the current family sector a step further in closing the currently existing yield gap. A road map will be developed to scale up the implementation of those TPs that are sustainable on the long run, and extract concrete guidance for monitoring effectiveness of interventions, supporting Dutch aid policy and national agricultural policy. The partnership consisting of Resilience BV, HUB, and FutureWater gives a broad spectrum of expertise and knowledge, giving the basis for an integrated approach in achieving improvements of water productivity.

The main role of FutureWater is monitoring water productivity in target areas using an innovative approach of Flying Sensors, a water productivity simulation model, and field observations. The flying sensors provide regular observations of the target areas, thereby giving insight in the crop conditions and stresses occurring. This information is used both for monitoring the water productivity of the selected fields and determining areas of high or low water productivity. Information on the spatial variation of water productivity can assist with the selection of technical packages to introduce and implement in the field. Flying sensors provide high resolution imagery, which is suitable for distinguishing the different fields and management practices existent in smallholder farming.

In May 2020, FutureWater launched an online portal where all flying sensor imagery from Mozambique, taken as part of the APSAN-Vale project, can be found: futurewater.eu/apsanvaleportal