In April, Vera Hollander, Water Management Expert at FutureWater, visited Mozambique for the APSAN-Vale project. This project 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 project has as its overall aim to increase climate resilient agricultural productivity and food security, with a specific objective to increase the water productivity and profitability of smallholder farmers in Mozambique, prioritizing small (family sector) farmers to increase food and nutritional security. The main role of FutureWater is monitoring water productivity in target areas (both spatial and seasonal/annual variation) using Flying Sensors in combination with a water productivity simulation model and field observations.

The visit consisted of various activities around the project. In Chimoio, FutureWater worked together with the three operators that are responsible for the Flying Sensor flights, and met with the local consortium team that implements the project. In addition, the team travelled to the three project locations: Barue, Nhamatanda and Moatize.

During these visits, several appointments took place with the project team on the ground in each district and with the farmers that participate in the project, to see their fields and hear about their experiences. It was a very nice and fruitful trip and we look forward to continue our work on the project!

Farmers in the fields
Project team
Farmers advisory in the field

InfoSequia is the Drought Early Warning and Forecasting System developed by FutureWater to support the decision-making and risk management of drought impacts. InfoSequia rests on an advanced cloud computing and geoprocessing architecture able to effectively integrate large volume of data from satellite, reanalysis and ground-observation networks, with machine learning techniques to generate local-tailored seasonal outlooks of drought risk failures at the river basin and agricultural district levels.

InfoSequia has been recently and effectively integrated into the TWIGA geoportal, a platform that offers to African users the possibility for accessing data from ground-observation networks, and climate or agro- services with monitoring and forecasting capabilities.

The new and enhanced InfoSequia indices and products are operationally delivered for the Inkomati River Basin, a transboundary basin which extends through South Africa, Eswatini and Mozambique.

This lite service includes a full suite of 3 dekad-based (10-days) meteorological drought indices and 3 dekad-based vegetative health indices, all of them timescale aggregated at 1, 3, 6 and 12 months, and updated every month. The service is easily scalable and user-tailored to other regions of Africa upon request and agreement with FutureWater. Thanks to the advanced front-end capabilities of the TWIGA portal, users can easily access InfoSequia data and incorporate them into dashboards specifically set up according to their information needs.

A video was made to highlight how InfoSequía has been implemented, watch it here:

More information about the FutureWater’s approach on Water Scarcity and Drought can be found here.

 

One-pager brochure of InfoSequia-TWIGA for Africa. Downloadable as PDF here.

 

The NARC (National Agricultural Research Centre) is the governmental agricultural research institution at the national level in Jordan, and is the national umbrella for the applied scientific research and agricultural consultation.

Training courses, conferences, and specialized workshops are organized by NARC at their research centers throughout the country. This extension service can be improved with information on spatial data and near-real time observations, as can be generated through remote sensing technology. In particular, flying sensor (drone) technology provides added value to agricultural extension services. Flying sensor technology has observed a growing interest and demand in the agricultural sector of Jordan. To meet these training needs, IHE Delft is collaborating with FutureWater and HiView in providing this TMAT (tailor-made training).

The overarching objective of this TMAT program is to provide participants with practical knowledge on flying sensors and its relevance for the agricultural sector. The modules and topics are structured as follows:

  • Module 1: Basic Understanding of Flying Sensors (background, technology, and setting up drone units).
  • Module 2: Imagery Processing (with ICE, Metashape, and ODM software).
  • Module 3: Crop monitoring
  • Module 4: Advisory services and data dissemination.

Today FutureWater and HiView kicked-off stage 2 of the Nuffic TMT training course on ‘Crop models and remote sensing for water management in agricultural systems’ at Egerton University in Nakuru, Kenya. After a series of online training courses in stage 1 last year, this in-country follow-up training focusses on flying sensors (drones) for agricultural systems. The training will allow the staff to gain advanced skills in working with flying sensors and satellite-derived data to support agricultural and water-related challenges, such as pests and diseases, water efficiency in agriculture to enhance food security, and drought monitoring. 

Egerton University (Crops, Horticulture & Soils Department) is partnering with FutureWater and HiView (the Netherlands) to conduct a tailor-made training on ‘Crop models and remote sensing for water management in agricultural systems’. The training project for Egerton University is a Tailor-Made Training (TMT), as part of the Orange Knowledge Programme, funded by Nuffic and will enhance capacity in accessing and using innovative data and tools in the public domain, to analyse crop performance and irrigation management.

In March and April 2021 FutureWater, together with HiView, conducted a series of online training courses on flying sensors (drones), agricultural applications, hands-on processing and interpretation of aerial imagery, setting up a drone unit, the use of WaPOR to access remotely sensed derived data, and real water savings in Kenya. In the comprehensive course, HiView and FutureWater reached out to more than 260 participants. A team of four lecturers delivered nine training sessions, in a period of just over 5 weeks. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the course was done completely online through FutureWater’s Moodle platform, dedicated to educational use. The participants received this new form of knowledge sharing enthusiastically.

After the online training sessions now a second in-country training will take place with a smaller group, focusing on the use of drones in agriculture. From 24 to 28 January 2022 a selected group of 15 to 20 members will be trained. To maximize the impact representatives from Egerton University, other institutes, ministries and private sector companies were invited. Focus will be on staff with lecturing responsibilities, to ensure impact on higher education provision and transfer of the new skills to students. For public sector representatives, the training objective is to obtain skills that can be directly and sustainably implemented in their respective organizations.

The current training will focus on the following aspects:

  • Piloting skills: Safety management and controlling the drone in manual and automatic modes
  • Image processing skills: Producing orthomosaics and crop stress maps and georeferencing
  • Skills regarding tools for imagery viewing and reporting
  • Knowledge about interpretation of the flying sensor imagery

The training is conducted by:

  • Martijn de Klerk, general director and flying sensor expert at FutureWater, the Netherlands
  • Jan van Til, operational director and certified drone pilot at HiView, the Netherlands
  • Veronicah Nyaguthii, AgPilot at ThirdEye Kenya
  • Purity Kinya, AgPilot at ThirdEye Kenya
  • Anthony Kibe, professor at Egerton University (training host)

Application of the new skills will be stimulated by assigning the participants clear, tailor-made goals at the end of the second training session, to be worked on during the distant-support period. After the second training stage, an online symposium will be organized for a larger audience including the superiors/managers (who most of the times are the final decision makers) of the training participants and representatives of similar organizations. During this knowledge sharing event, trainees and trainers will actively provide contributions to showcase the newly gained skills and their added value to the respective institutions and the Kenyan agricultural sector in general.

This project forms an important step in the capacity building strategy as it focuses on strengthening the universities and preparing them to provide high quality education to the future generation agronomists and agricultural managers, as well as upgrading the knowledge of current professionals. Overall, the Kenyan society at large will benefit from improved food security provided by well-educated agricultural researchers and professionals.

The team of trainers: Martijn de Klerk (FutureWater), Veronicah Nyaguthii (ThirdEye Kenya), Antony Kibe (Egerton University), Purity Kinya (ThirdEye Kenya) and Jan van Til (HiView).
Introduction in the classroom.
Instructions in the field.
Manual piloting by all participants.

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

Project video: Portrait of the activities on water productivity

Last week FutureWater assisted ThirdEye Limitada (Central Mozambique) in providing a training on the use of drones for agricultural purposes for NCBA CLUSA technicians. The trainings and technical assistance for the NCBA CLUSA staff are provided in collaboration with project partner HiView (The Netherlands). Eight technicians of NCBA CLUSA were trained in using flying sensors (drones) for agricultural purposes. The 5-day training consisted of making manual and automatic flights, processing the images into vegetation status maps and interpreting these.

The camera mounted on the drone makes use of the near-infrared (NIR) 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. FutureWater and NCBA CLUSA also successfully collaborated in a project in 2019 in which flying sensor activities were incorporated in NCBA CLUSA’s PROMAC II project as a M&E indicator of the practices and as an innovative technology for providing technical staff with spatial information on crop development.

ThirdEye Limitada is a leading flying sensor company, based in Chimoio, Mozambique, that was established in 2018 as part of FutureWater’s APSAN-Vale project. Ever since, the company has provided its innovative drone monitoring service to thousands of farmers across central Mozambique. The company is using the latest technology and is steadily growing in operators, number of farmers, revenue and geographical areas.

NCBA CLUSA works to build a better world and a more inclusive economy that empowers people to contribute to shared prosperity and well being for themselves and future generations. NCBA CLUSA engages, partners with and empowers people everywhere to have a greater say in their futures and more equitable access to sustainable jobs and opportunities. They achieve this vision through collaborative partnerships in development, advocacy, public awareness and thought leadership.

In-field drone training
In-field drone training
Agronomical training
Imagery processing
Participant receiving his certificate
Participants with their certificate of completion

Last week FutureWater, together with its partner HiView, gave two days of lectures at IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, which partners with UNESCO. As part of their master degree, seven students were taught on the theory behind flying sensors (also known as drones), the different types of applications and how to use them in an agricultural setting.

On day 1 an excursion was made to the Hoeksche Waard, where two flying sensor flights were performed at a large agricultural area: one with the senseFly eBee, a fixed wing aircraft, able to cover large distances in a short time and one with the DJI Mavic Pro, a quadcopter, which is very manoeuvrable, easy to use and less expensive. The DJI Mavic is also used successfully by FutureWater and HiView in the ThirdEye project in Kenya and Mozambique and APSAN-Vale project in Mozambique.

On day 2 of the lectures, students processed the images taken by the flying sensors, using open source software and presented their results. The final NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) maps show where the crop is stressed. This stress is indicated by red colors on the map and can indicate a lack of water, nutrients or the abundance of a pest or weeds. Thanks to the special cameras on the flying sensors, this stress can be detected 10 days before it can be observed by the human eye. In this way farmers can be advised before actual crop damage occurs and take preventive measures to ensure a higher yield. Furthermore, farmers can reduce their water, fertilizer and pesticide use by only focusing on problematic zones instead of applying these inputs to their whole field.

Aftermovie and pictures

Lecture in the classroom at IHE Delft.
Preparation of the flying sensor flight.
Our flying sensor in action in the field.
Group picture in the field in de Hoeksche Waard.

In Kenya, roughly 70% of the population is aged between 15-34. This age group is expected to double by the year 2050. Approximately 1 million young Kenyans enter the job market each year and only about 35% are absorbed into the formal job market. The remaining 65% end up unemployed or under employed. The agriculture sector dominates the Kenyan economy in terms of employment and contribution to GDP. Yet, the engagement of youth in agriculture is minimal.

Increasingly, young people are leaving rural areas with the perception that better economic opportunities can only be found in urban areas and cities. Agriculture is not regarded as a pathway to meaningful employment, even for those with opportunities to advance their education. With the average age of the Kenyan farmer being 60 years old, the migration of youth to urban areas threatens the sustainability of agriculture and food security at large.

HiView and FutureWater are reaching out to a few hundred participants with their newly developed eTraining program.

When agriculture becomes an interesting career choice

The Kenyan Government has always been the largest employer of young agriculture graduates who end up working as extension officers and as research officials in institutions such as the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation. Increased investment in commercial agribusiness and the entrance of supply chain companies has once again renewed interest in agricultural prospects says Prof. Anthony Kibe of Egerton University. ‘10 years ago, only two students from my graduating cohorts would end up in the private sector but now, I have seventy five graduates getting employment in a number of companies and commercial farms.’

‘Profitability is key for any young entrepreneur, so smart farming is the way to go. New techniques require training and education especially in ICT,’ says John Ng’ang’a a PhD student at Egerton University.

However, young Kenyan farmers are not homogenous and several have ambitions of creating high value agricultural enterprises, but they often have little resources and lack the requisite technical and entrepreneurial skills. What differentiates the young generation in Kenya is their propensity to adopt new technologies rather quickly. Mercy Corps AgriFin Accelerate found that 90% of farmers aged between 18 to 35 in Kenya have high levels of engagement with information and communication technology.

New technologies are the future

The Netherlands is a natural partner in this regard given the advances in smart farming and the strong collaboration between knowledge institutions and the private sector in developing sustainable solutions. The partnership between Egerton University and FutureWater B.V. is addressing the knowledge gap holding back sustainable agriculture in Kenya. By introducing new technologies, they are providing an opportunity to increase innovation in agriculture and also attract tech savvy youth to farming.

The practicality of the training course “Using flying sensors and crop growth models to increase food production in Kenya’’ helps build the technical skills lacking so much in advancing smart agriculture. It is also relevant in terms of an updated 21st century training that will attract young farmers. Through the use of the drones and the open data sources, trainees will be equipped with skills to enable fact based rather than intuitive based decision making in farm management. Farmers will be able to get information on the needs of various sections of the farm and make decisions on where to apply limited inputs such as water, fertilizer, seeds, labour etc.

 

A screenshot of the first session

Collaboration between the public and private sector

Despite the usefulness of such practical training courses, the overall quality of agricultural training is mixed. The linkages between knowledge institutions and industry are weak. Private sector players vocalise that knowledge institutions do not produce graduated trained in areas relevant to their activities. The Tailor-Made Training pillar of the Orange Knowledge Program (OKP) provides a platform for customized training courses to solve specific problems. In the case of the project, the issue of the use of technology to improve agriculture is being addressed. It provides opportunities for the Dutch private sector to collaborate with knowledge institutions on the use of such modern technologies. Partnerships in data collection for analyzing crop performance, water efficiency can create a foundation for sustained future partnerships. This way, new innovations suited to the local context can be better advanced.

The OKP project aims at building the capacity of the educational staff of the Department of Crops, Horticulture and Soil to use innovative data and technology to analyse irrigation management and crop performance.

The eco.business Fund, in partnership with FutureWater and Export Trading Group (ETG), one of the largest integrated agricultural supply chain managers and processors in sub-Saharan Africa, has launched a pilot project in Kenya for data-driven agricultural intensification. This project aims to improve farmer productivity and profitability whilst enhancing the environmental risk management and climate resilience of Kenya’s maize, coffee, and tea crops through improved soil and crop nutrition management.

A consortium led by FutureWater will collaborate with ETG agronomists and the Empowering Farmers Foundation (EFF) to work together with 60 selected maize, coffee, and tea farmers from around the country to implement Climate Smart Agricultural practices, such as crop rotation to rejuvenate soil nutrients, or mulching to reduce weeds and water erosion.

By using drones to monitor the application of these sustainable crop interventions from the selected farms, the project team will also be able to use the data to assess crop productivity improvements, create crop calendars to increase harvest yields, and understand land use changes to protect encroachment into biodiverse areas. Soil samples will also be collected and analyzed to identify soil nutrition deficiencies and design appropriate soil enhancement measures that will be implemented on demo farms. The success of this pilot project will provide learnings on how it can be scaled up to reach more farmers and assess its replicability across different geographic locations. Ms. Lisa Stahl, Chairperson of the eco.business Development Facility for sub-Saharan Africa, stated: “We welcome the launch of this project with ETG. Not only will it contribute to enhancing the sustainability of ETG’s sourcing operations, but the project will also serve as a model for leveraging modern technology and data analytics for sustainable agricultural intensification.”

About the eco.business Fund

The eco.business Fund aims to promote business and consumption practices that contribute to biodiversity conservation, to the sustainable use of natural resources, and to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts in Latin America, the Caribbean, and sub-Saharan Africa. By providing financing for business practices that conserve nature and foster biodiversity, the fund seeks investments with both environmental and financial returns. The eco.business Fund provides financing through three avenues: local financial institutions that are committed to the fund’s mission and which have the capacity to reach its target group; directly to its target group (i.e. companies and producers); and in the case of sub-Saharan Africa, to real sector  intermediaries. The fund supports sustainable operations in the sectors of agriculture, fishery (including aquaculture), forestry and tourism. Target beneficiaries are those that hold an eligible sustainability certification or those taking out a loan to make eligible sustainable investments in their operations.

Operating together with each of the two sub-funds, are two development facilities that provide high-impact technical assistance to investment partners and final borrowers.

An impact investment fund advised by Finance in Motion, the eco.business Fund was initiated by Germany’s KfW Development Bank and Conservation International with financial support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The sub-fund for sub-Saharan Africa was formally launched in 2020 with initial funding from BMZ. The sub-fund for Latin America and the Caribbean has received funding from the European Commission as well as from numerous other prestigious development finance institutions and institutional investors.

For more information, please visit www.ecobusiness.fund and follow them on Twitter @ecobusinessfund

About Export Trading Group (ETG)

Export Trading Group (ETG) is one of the largest and fastest growing integrated agricultural supply chain managers and processors in Sub-Saharan Africa, with operations across 48 countries globally. ETG has developed a diverse portfolio of expertise across multiple industries, encompassing agricultural inputs, logistics, merchandising and processing, supply chain optimization, digital transformation and energy.

For more information, please visit www.etgworld.com

About Empowering Farmers Foundation (EFF)

Since 2013, EFF has been working with smallholder farming communities in Eastern and Southern Africa and has actively engaged with thousands of farmers in cereals, oil seeds, legumes and other value chains. The Foundation aims to stimulate growth in the agricultural sector and foster the development of rural economies by supporting smallholder farmers to move from subsistence farming to farming for business. Through its extension model it works closely with farmers to provide good agronomic practices and business training, while facilitating access to inputs, financial services and guaranteed markets. EFF collaborates closely with local government authorities, semi-autonomous agencies, and rural extension staff, who are critical for the implementation of project activities. About 40% of the target group that EFF reaches are women farmers and agri-preneurs.

For more information, visit www.eff.dev

The project is funded by:

 

In Sub-Saharan Africa, population growth, associated food demand and pressure on natural areas have all increased greatly. Agricultural intensification – more production from the same acreage – remains a key solution to these challenges. One of the cornerstones of intensification is that of a higher and more productive use of inputs, such as fertilizer and water. So far, the average production has remained low and a significant yield gap still exists, mainly among small scale producers (SSPs). The limiting factors are (partly) caused by weather and climatic changes but also by a lack of agronomical knowledge, proper inputs, fertilizers and (climate smart) irrigation techniques. Thanks to the digital revolution Africa is going through, many commercial farmers already have access to a wide range of agricultural services. However, such solutions are not yet accessible to SSPs due to their costs.

A consortium led by FutureWater will collaborate with ETG agronomists and the Empowering Farmers Foundation (EFF) to work together with 60 selected maize, coffee, and tea farmers from around the country to implement Climate Smart Agricultural practices, such as crop rotation to rejuvenate soil nutrients, or mulching to reduce weeds and water erosion. By using drones to monitor the application of these sustainable crop interventions from the selected farms, the project team will also be able to use the data to assess crop productivity improvements, create crop calendars to increase harvest yields, and understand land use changes to protect encroachment into biodiverse areas. Soil samples will also be collected and analyzed to identify soil nutrition deficiencies and design appropriate soil enhancement measures that will be implemented on demo farms. The success of this pilot project will provide learnings on how it can be scaled up to reach more farmers and assess its replicability across different geographic locations.

Over the past years FutureWater and HiView managed to develop a low-cost agricultural drone technology which revolutionized the applicability of geo-information services for African farmers: ThirdEye. With the flying sensor service successful local enterprises were established that provide a low-cost drone service to small- and largescale farmers, both in Mozambique and Kenya. ThirdEye’s young agronomist-drone operators support farm decisions based on the flying sensor crop mapping that is viewed on a tablet. Integrating crop nutrition advisory and other improved agronomic practices into the ThirdEye service will bring the (extension) service up to the next level. In this project, we complement the work of flying sensors by ThirdEye with the agronomic service model of Holland Greentech including input distribution, demonstrations and field days, farmer training and coaching and soil testing.

By merging agronomic advisory services making use of low-cost flying sensors, soil testing, climate smart inputs, farmer coaching and an interactive online planning & monitoring portal, the farmer is able to improve his/her:

  • Planning: What crop to grow in the season based on expected weather, crop prices and market demand;
  • Cropping: When to sow the seed based on the type of crop and predicted weather
  • Management: When and where to irrigate, fertilize and apply pesticide. This can help reduce the amount of inputs used in the farm and increase yields, thus helping with profitability.
  • Harvest: When to harvest the crop based on market prices and predicted weather.
  • Market linkage: The ability to make informed decisions on where to sell their produce, which may increase their income.
  • Climate resilience: Option to order climate smart inputs and technologies from different suppliers. These technologies include hybrid seeds, propagation units and greenhouses, (drip) irrigation equipment, soil analysis, biological soil enhancers and biological pest control products.

This project is a collaboration between ETG Kenya, Empowering Farmers Foundation, Eco-Business II Sub-Fund Development Facility, HiView, FutureWater, Holland Greentech and ThirdEye Kenya. For more information visit: https://www.ecobusiness.fund/