Last week FutureWater, together with its partner HiView, gave 2 days of lectures at IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, which partners with UNESCO. As part of their master degree, around 10 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

Preparation of the flying sensor flight.
Our flying sensor in action in the field.
Group picture in the field in de Hoeksche Waard.

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.

At the GrowCongo! conference, organized by NABC, FutureWater and HiView conducted a pitch for a delegation from Republic of Congo including Prime Minister Clément Mouamba. Prime Minister Mouamba was accompanied by several ministers of his government, amongst which the Minister of Agriculture. The governmental team was present at the conference to promote agricultural business between the Republique of Congo and the Netherlands. They showed vivid interest in FutureWater and HiView’s joint flying sensors applications in the agricultural sector. Especially the ThirdEye service, that FutureWater-HiView havecommonly set up in the period of the last 5 years in different countries on the African continent, like Mozambique and Kenya, received much attention. The ThirdEye service uses flying sensors to monitor crops of (smallholder) African farmers and subsequently provide in-field agronomical advisory.

Presenting the ThirdEye service to Prime Minister Mouamba
Presenting the ThirdEye service to Prime Minister Mouamba.
Martijn de Klerk (FutureWater) and Jan van Til (HiView)
Martijn de Klerk (FutureWater) and Jan van Til (HiView) with the flying sensor equipment.

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

Last week FutureWater, together with its partner HiView, gave 2 days of lectures at IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, which partners with UNESCO. As part of their master degree, around 25 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 Ebee, a fixed wing aircraft, able to cover large distances in a short time and one with the DJI Mavic, 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. As part of the excursion, the students also visited another farmer who talked about his experience with using flying sensors in his crop management decision making.

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 colours 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. Futhermore, farmers can reduce their water, fertilizer and pesticide use by only focusing on problematic zones instead of applying these inputs to their whole field.

Lectures and practical exercises in class.
Preparation of the flying sensor flight (Ebee).
Our flying sensor in action in the field.

In a bid to create and increase more awareness on the use of flying sensors (drones) in agriculture, FutureWater and HiView, held a seminar on March 2, 2018 at the KALRO (Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization) Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. The seminar was attended by KALRO researchers, representatives of SNV, government employees, as well as students from Egerton University.

Martijn de Klerk (FutureWater) and Jan van Til (HiView) explained about the flying sensor technology and informed participant about the ThirdEye project, taking place in Meru County, Kenya. The ThirdEye project provides farmers with important and relevant information on seeds, water, pesticides and labor to increase efficiency and production. The low-cost flying sensors take aerial images to detect crop stress, which can be detected 10 days before the human eye can see it, thus assisting farmers to make informed decisions. So far six flying sensor operators have been trained and equipped with tools to analyze the obtained imagery and offer advice to farmers. This technology will provide farmers with services that were previously the function of agricultural extension service providers and allows farmers to scout farm fields quickly and efficiently rather than having farmers evaluate their farms manually on foot or by tractor.

In an online presentation, Mr. Giacomo Rambaldi, coordinator at The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), a Netherlands Development Organization, highlighted many opportunities and challenges of using flying sensors. He said the drone technology has increased the participation of the youth in agriculture, solved agriculture based problems, and brought transformation on real-time data gathering and processing. However, drone technology is facing challenges in developing countries such as the absence of UAV regulations, non-recognition of drone pilot licenses, insufficient awareness, and lack of evidence of positive returns to investment for smallholders among many others. Mr. Rambaldi said CTA will support flying sensor service providers, like ThirdEye, through capacity building, networking and market linkages for farmers, documenting success stories as well as publishing guidebooks and training materials.

The innovative flying sensor, developed by FutureWater and HiView, that is being used in the ThirdEye project.

According to Dr Wellington Mulinge, researcher at KALRO, the flying sensors will assist in disease surveillance, surveys and extension services. “KALRO is tasked with providing research findings and technologies to farmers in agriculture and among the constraints we are facing is the extension service. Therefore this kind of technology will enable experts and farmers to know the status of their fields in shorter periods of time compared to the old way of using agricultural extension officers” said Dr. Mulinge.

In partnership with CTA, KALRO is undertaking a cost and benefit analysis of smallholder farmers growing onions and French beans under irrigation and benefiting from FutureWater’s ThirdEye service. The cost and benefit analysis of the ThirdEye service will be completed in September 2018.

 

Vandaag, 22 maart 2018, is Wereld Water Dag. In Nederland minder bekend, maar vooral in Afrika en Azië is 22 maart een dag waar water nog eens extra onder de aandacht wordt gebracht. Het thema van dit jaar is “natuur voor water”: de mogelijkheden die natuur biedt voor het oplossen van wereldwijde waterproblemen.

In het vandaag verschenen ‘World Water Development Report” van de Verenigde Naties wordt uitgebreid aandacht besteed aan deze “nature-based solutions”. FutureWater is verheugd dat het werk in Kenia, waar samen met lokale partners natuurlijke oplossingen ter bescherming van water en bodem werden gevonden, wordt aangehaald in het rapport. “Er wordt nog te vaak gedacht in infrastructurele oplossingen”, aldus Johannes Hunink, één van de onderzoekers die aan het project meewerkte. “De mogelijkheden van groene oplossingen worden vaak over het hoofd gezien en te vaak kiezen we toch weer voor grijze (beton) oplossingen”. Johannes benadrukt wel dat er altijd goed gekeken moet worden naar de meest passende oplossing en dat de expertise die in Nederland op dit vlak beschikbaar is wereldwijd gebruikt wordt. “We staan bekend om onze Deltawerken, maar ook de Ruimte voor de Rivier aanpak wordt nu wereldwijd aangehaald als een uitermate succesvolle nature-based oplossing”.

Het project in Kenia dat in het VN rapport uitgebreid wordt aangehaald heet het Nairobi Water Fund project.  FutureWater heeft met partners in Wageningen en Kenia, op verzoek van de Amerikaanse versie van Natuurmonument (The Nature Conservancy, TNC), uitgevoerd. Het project, met een investeringswaarde van 10 miljoen US$, zorgt voor een betrouwbaardere drinkwatervoorziening voor Nairobi, doordat boeren in bovenstroomse gebieden hun landbouw systemen “nature-based” beheren.

Het huidige ThirdEye project waar FutureWater lokale partners in Kenia opleidt in het gebruik van drones om boeren van dagelijks advies te voorzien, maakt de cirkel rond. Martijn de Klerk, projectleider, zegt dat hiermee het meer theoretische concept van het eerder genoemde Nairobi Water Fund in de praktijk wordt gebracht. Martijn, net terug vanuit Kenya: “Boeren zijn enorm enthousiast over de drone service en zien het resultaat van hun nature-based aanpak”.

 

In Nederland spelen drones al een belangrijke rol in de landbouw: vanuit de lucht kunnen zij zeer precies de groei van gewassen monitoren. Hierbij wordt gebruik gemaakt van hoogwaardige sensoren en relatief dure drones. Dankzij deze sensoren kan met speciale software precies worden berekend welke verzorging (bv. water, kunstmest of gewasbeschermingsmiddelen) is vereist. “Een fantastische technologie”, aldus Martijn de Klerk, onderzoeker bij FutureWater in Wageningen. “Maar, doordat de hoogwaardige sensoren en drones relatief duur zijn en er ook nog eens gebruik wordt gemaakt van dure software, is deze technologie alleen geschikt voor de Westerse boeren”.

Om de technologie óók toegankelijk te maken voor kleinschalige boeren in Afrika, hebben onderzoekers van FutureWater samen met drone-bedrijf HiView een manier gevonden om een sensor, die vroegtijdig gewasstress kan detecteren, te integreren in een relatief goedkope, maar duurzame drone (flying sensor). “Deze combinatie én het gebruik van vrij-beschikbare software zorgt ervoor dat de drone-technologie ook zeer interessant wordt voor de Afrikaanse markt, waar veel van de groente en fruit die we hier in de supermarkt vinden wordt verbouwd.”

De innovatieve flying sensor, ontwikkeld door FutureWater en HiView, die bij het ThirdEye project wordt gebruikt.

Drie jaar geleden hebben FutureWater en HiView de innovatie, ThirdEye genaamd, met behulp van financiering door de Amerikaanse, Nederlandse en Zweedse overheid voor het eerst getest in Mozambique. En met succes: in drie jaar tijd zijn 14 lokale mensen getraind om de technologie te gebruiken bij het advies aan kleinschalige en commerciële boeren. Hierbij hebben tot nu toe al ruim 3.500 boeren gebruik gemaakt van de dienst. “Dankzij deze financiële impuls konden we de technologie verder ontwikkelen en uitbreiden. Er is een lokaal bedrijf opgericht die deze service nu zonder externe financiering levert aan boeren, voor nog geen 2 euro per hectare, een stuk goedkoper dan hier in Nederland.”

Sinds eind 2017 is het project uitgebreid naar Kenia. Hier zijn in december de eerste vijf flying sensor piloten getraind, allemaal met een landbouwopleiding als achtergrond. Dit is van belang bij het advieswerk aan de boeren. Martijn en collega Jan van Til van HiView zijn net weer terug uit het land waar de piloten sinds februari jl. vluchten uitvoeren voor honderden boeren. Dit aantal wordt de komende maanden uitgebreid naar enkele duizenden.

Het advies helpt boeren om water te besparen en hun oogst te vergroten. “Door de actuele droogte in Kaapstad en het westen van Kenia wordt het duidelijk dat waterbesparing in de landbouw, verreweg de grootste waterverbruiker, van enorm belang is. Onze technologie verhoogt de waterproductiviteit, waardoor het water zo efficiënt mogelijk kan worden ingezet. Cruciaal, zeker met het oog op klimaatverandering”, aldus Martijn.

The ThirdEye project supports farmers in Kenya by setting up a network of flying sensors operators. These operators are equipped with flying sensors and tools to analyse the obtained imagery. In December ThirdEye staff conducted an intensive two weeks flying sensor training at Agricultural Training Centre (ATC) Kaguru, 15 km south of Meru, Kenya. The training was given by our senior staff member Mr Jan van Til, assisted by ATC’s principal Mr Paul Kiriinya and our local manager Mr. Kiogora Julius. Three young women and two young men from the Meru region, all of them professional extentionists, were promoted “flying sensor operator” at the end of the training, each receiving a ThirdEye certificate.

The operators are now fit for the job that consists of conducting flights, processing the images to NDVI crop status maps and giving advise to farmers in the fields with the help of GPS tablets. Our innovation is a major transformation in farmers’ decision making regarding the application of limited resources such as water, seeds, fertilizer and labor. Instead of relying on common-sense management, farmers are now able to take decisions based on facts, resulting in an increase in water productivity. The flying sensor information helps farmers to see when and where they should apply their limited resources. Our flying sensors close the missing link to agronomic information on where to do what and when.

From January on the ThirdEye service is being implemented in several Meru sub-counties, where farmers will receive advice on a weekly basis. After a few months the service will be expanded to new regions. In this process ThirdEye Kenya will be slowly transformed from a project into a leading local flying sensor enterprise.

ThirdEye operators receiving training in the classroom and in the field.