This month the HiFarm project, a data driven agricultural intensification pilot program for maize, coffee and tea farmers in Kenya, was completed. The 18-month project improved farmer productivity whilst enhancing the environmental risk management and climate resilience of 60 lead farmers through improved soil and crop nutrition management.

Over the past years FutureWater, leading company in the water-energy-food nexus, and HiView, company specialized in drone operations, both from the Netherlands managed to develop a low-cost agricultural drone technology which revolutionized the application of geo-information services for African farmers. With the flying sensor services, successful local enterprises were established that provide a low-cost drone service to small- and largescale farmers, both in Mozambique and Kenya. Here so-called AgPilots, young agronomist-drone operators, support farm decisions based on the flying sensor crop mapping that is viewed on a tablet. Within the HiFarm project, funded and conceptualized by the Eco-Business II Sub-Fund Development Facility, the integration of this flying sensor service with crop nutrition advisory and other improved agronomic practices brought the extension service to the next level.

A consortium consisting of FutureWater, Holland Greentech, ThirdEye Kenya and HiView collaborated with agronomists from the Export Trading Group (ETG) and the Empowering Farmers Foundation (EFF) to work together with farmers in the districts of Nakuru, Kiambu, Embu and Limuru to implement Climate Smart Agricultural practices, such as crop rotation to rejuvenate soil nutrients, or mulching to reduce weeds and water erosion. Holland Greentech conducted soil and leaf analysis and provided nutritional advice. Our Kenyan partner ETG was responsible for input delivery that was based on Holland Greentech’s findings. HiView’s role was to monitor the three crops once every 5 weeks throughout the project that lasted one and a half years. With this HiView was in the lead of the flight missions that were executed by ThirdEye, a agricultural drone company that was established by HiView and FutureWater in 2017 and is based in Meru, Kenya. FutureWater was responsible for the overall project management, monitoring & evaluation and online monitoring & planning portal development.

Thanks to the efforts of the HiFarm consortium all planned activities have been carried out in a most successful way. Altogether the team conducted 558 flying sensor flights, covering 984 acres per round (one round every 5 weeks), enhancing the productivity of 60 farmers in Kenya by up to 25%. The success of this pilot project proves the great potential for agronomic extension services in which data driven technology is used. The bundled service is now ready to be scaled up to reach more farmers and assess its replicability across different geographic locations.

This is without doubt a great achievement and we are proud of the complete HiFarm team, but especially local AgPilots Mrs Veronicah Nyaguthii and Ms Purity Kinya, together with the national manager from ThirdEye Kenya, Mr Kiogora Julius.

The pilot project was funded and conceptualized by the Eco-Business II Sub-Fund Development Facility, and carried out by FutureWater, HiView, Holland Greentech and ThirdEye Kenya, with the Export Trading Group (ETG) and Empowering Farmers Foundation (EFF). For more information visit: www.ecobusiness.fund.

Field work carried out during the project

Early November Agência de Desenvolvimento do Vale do Zambeze (ADVZ) from Mozambique visited the FutureWater office in Wageningen, the Netherlands where a full day was planned with APSAN-Vale project partners Resilience, FutureWater and HiView. From FutureWater side Tijmen Schults and Lisa Verschuren provided an interesting presentation on the water productivity results of the passed season. Furthermore, a demonstration of the new Rapid Eye XS drone was provided in the floodplains of Wageningen. The day was concluded with a fruitful discussion on strengthening the future cooperation.

Agência de Desenvolvimento do Vale do Zambeze beneficiary of the APSAN-Vale project in central Mozambique. 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.

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, sub-basin as well as basin-level. The main role of FutureWater is monitoring water productivity in target areas (both spatial and seasonal/annual variation) using flying sensors (drones) in combination with a water productivity simulation model and field observations.

Visit of the Agência members to the Wageningen office

Field demonstation of the Rapid Drone XS in Wageningen

In response to the pressing global challenges related to water, agriculture and ecosystem services, the availability of data and tools to support decision makers in these fields has grown rapidly in recent years. Public agencies, NGOs and researchers therefore need to continuously develop their capacity to make optimal use of these resources. To support our partners in successfully achieving their goals, early November FutureWater proudly launched the FutureWater Academy, our new platform that bundles all our training courses.

The FutureWater Academy offers a range of training courses on the latest tools for addressing water-related knowledge gaps. Courses are offered remotely, on location, as well as in hybrid modes, and can be organized from a few days up to several months. Topics entail Hydrological Models and SPHY, Water Allocation and Planning, Flying Sensors, Drought Early Warning, Geospatial Data Analysis and Remote Sensing, Climate Risk Assessments, Google Earth Engine and Real Water Savings (ReWaS).

Check out www.futurewateracademy.com for more information! Does your organization experience a water-related knowledge gap? Do not hesitate to contact us for an initial conversation.

The TWIGA Final Conference was held on 11 and 12 July as a hybrid event in De Oude Bibliotheek in Delft, the Netherlands, and online. The event gathered on both days 27 participants present in person and 15 online, including consortium partners, representatives of two sister projects AfriCultuReS and e-Shape, Advisory Board members, and the EC Project Officer.

Over the past 4 years, the TWIGA project provided actionable geo-information on weather, water, and climate in Africa through innovative combinations of new in situ sensors and satellite-based geo-data. The TWIGA consortium comprised seven research organisations, nine SMEs and two government organisations. In addition it used a network of 500 ground weather stations in Africa, providing ready-to-use technical infrastructure.

The program was structured to present the results of the project per Work Package during the first day, which was an internal consortium meeting, and the demonstration of the TWIGA Services, the legacy of TWIGA, and the future opportunities during the second day, which was a public event.

FutureWater team members Sergio Contreras, Corjan Nolet and Martijn de Klerk presented the successful development of the MapYourCrop drone service and InfoSequia drought early warning service. More information on the project can be found here.

TWIGA Aftermovie: 

TWIGA partners
Sergio Contreras presenting InfoSequia.
Corjan Nolet presenting MapYourCrop

To facilitate the needs of ZIPAK, this training aims to build data-driven capacities relevant to sustainable nature conservation practices and ecosystem-based natural resources management in Iran:

  • Leveraging the Climate Change Knowledge Portal (CCKP) for performing climate risk and vulnerability assessments
  • Leveraging the online dashboard Earth Map for environmental hazard mapping and socio-economic risk assessments
  • Applying the InVest model (Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs) for assessing ecosystem service provision

The training focuses on knowledge and skills development and how how to meaningfully integrate these capabilities into ZIPAK’s objectives on sustainable management of the environment and natural resources.

Last week, Martijn de Klerk, Corjan Nolet, and Tijmen Schults provided an in-person training on Climate Smart Agriculture and geodata and modeling tools for participants representing SMEs from the Egyptian agricultural sector. The training was part of the SASPEN (Sustainable Agriculture Service provision Enterprise Network in Egypt) project, implemented by Care Egypt

The training took place at Care Netherlands in The Hague and was initiated by Care Egypt Foundation (CEF) and funded by the Dutch Embassy in Egypt. The aim of the SAPSEN project is to connect Egyptian agribusiness professionals from small and medium enterprises to Dutch projects, companies, and other partners in the agricultural sector to strengthen collaboration and stimulate the exchange of knowledge.

During the training FutureWater provided, 11 enthusiastic participants from various agricultural companies listened to a variety of topics surrounding Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA). The participants acquired hands-on experience in the use of online portals for the retrieval of geodata for agriculture and were handed several tools to perform data analysis. The agribusiness professionals indulged in discussions and participated in interactive quizzes related to CSA, geodata tools, drones, and crop modeling. The day was successful in bringing ideas and businesses together.

The in-person training will be followed up by two online training sessions covering advanced topics such as an introduction to ‘Real Water Savings’ (REWAS), water productivity interventions, open data portals for climate change information, and open access data solutions for the agricultural sector.

 

Presentation provided by FutureWater colleague Tijmen Schults
Presentation provided by FutureWater colleague Corjan Nolet

Early July, Martijn de Klerk, flying sensor expert at FutureWater and Jan van Til, operational manager at HiView, gave a one-week training at Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya on the use of drones for agriculture. The course was part of the farm extension service ‘MapYourCrop’ developed by FutureWater, as part of the TWIGA project, with  partners HiView, Hydrologic and UFZ Helmholtz.  

The MapYourCrop service uses drones, or flying sensors, to collect crop information with an unprecedented level of detail and provide it to final users through an interactive portal. What makes MapYourCrop unique is that flying sensor data is enriched with detailed crop status information collected by the smartphone app called ‘VegMon’. After making the flying sensor crop stress maps, the VegMon app is used to zoom in to problem areas. Based on measurements, visual inspection, photographic evidence, and expert knowledge, the crop stress is identified and recorded with the app and a farm management advice is developed. The final advice is provided using the TWIGA platform. The farmer can choose to receive the advice in-person or electronically.  

To ensure the sustainability of the ‘MapYourCrop’ service FutureWater and HiView organized a training week to transfer knowledge on using flying sensors in an agricultural context, to one of the African TWIGA partners: Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya. The interactive, physical training took place with a group of around 16 enthusiastic participants, from 4 to 8 July 2022 at the premises of Strathmore University..  

The training focussed 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 TWIGA project, which is funded by the European Commission, aims to provide actionable geo-information on weather, water, and climate in Africa through innovative combinations of new in situ sensors and satellite-based geo-da ta. With the foreseen new services, TWIGA expects to reach twelve million people within the four years of the project, based on sustainable business models.  

Field demonstration
Flying sensor demonstration in the field
Processing skills training at office
Participants
Trainers and participants

 

On 17 June associate Jan van Til from HiView accompanied his colleagues from ThirdEye at a presentation day for potential clients. ThirdEye is a Mozambican drone service company that was established in 2015 by FutureWater and HiView. At this day, that was partly held in a venue in Chimoio and partly in a field near Chibata, 12 participants had the chance to meet with the team and get informed about all applications that are possible with Flying Sensors (drones), specifically in the agriculture sector. All participants were very enthusiastic, as the evaluation forms stated. The outcome is real perspectives on assignments in the region of Chimoio.

On 21 June the same team was present in Tete at the headquarters of the Agençia de Desenvolvimento do Vale do Zambeze, the lead partner in our common APSAN-Vale project that is supported by the Dutch government. This day we organized a short course on the use of Flying Sensors for agriculture, focusing on practices in field and on processing skills at the office. During the day we built up a good relationship with the agronomists of the Agençia. One day proved to be too short, which was the only comment from the very enthusiastic group. Both HiView-ThirdEye and the Agençia will do their best to have a follow up training in the future lasting at least a week.

Jan van Til’s visit was part of the APSAN-Vale project that FutureWater and HiView are undertaking in Mozambique. 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. 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 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.

Processing skills training at office
Flying sensor demonstration in the field
Short course on the use of Flying Sensors for agriculture

FutureWater’s partner HiView has completed the prototype of their latest innovation, the Rapid Eye XS. This ultra light drone is designed in the first place for the use in small scale agriculture, but has many other potential applications. It can process NDVI imagery on-board, and is very easy to use. FutureWater played a prominent role in the development of this revolutionary system, partly thanks to the TWIGA project, funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme. 

Features

The prototype of the Rapid Eye XS is equipped with a Raspberry Pi near-infrared camera that can be used to monitor crop performance. It can be launched very quickly using a single button on the remote control. It has a return-to-home function to make sure the drone will always find its way back.

Once airborne the camera can be triggered through a radio connection, with a range up to 400 meters. Right after capturing the image at a typical height of 120 meters, an NDVI map is produced on the fly in as little as 12 seconds.

A global premiere: NDVI processing on board

Shortly after landing, the NDVI map can be downloaded in-field on any mobile phone or tablet through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and can be viewed instantly in the field, without needing complex time-demanding processing skills that are usually required.

Easy-to-understand colors on the map indicate healthy and problematic zones, which the agronomic pilot assesses in the field right away, together with the farmer. In this way the map is used to provide real time advisory to farmers on how to improve their crop growth.

Real time in- field advisory

As these farmers usually have limited access to resources and are often hindered in their access to information, this real time advisory will help improve their farming practices and increase their yield and water productivity.

Agronomists and farmers from all over the world are already responding very positively to the first prototype of this innovative small scale drone. By downgrading the performance requirements and with a cost price of just a few hundred euros, the Rapid Eye XS is going to be a real game-changer for smallholder farmers in developing countries.

Field demonstration with farmers in Mozambique.
Inspection of the new drone in Mozambique.

Agriculture is a key sector of the Rwandan economy; it contributes approximately 33% to the gross domestic product and employs more than 70% of the entire labour force. Although some farmers are already using water-efficient irrigation infrastructure, too much of the available water is still lost due to unsustainable use of existing irrigation systems, and/or maximum crop yields are not achieved due to under-irrigation.

Hence, small to medium-sized food producers in Rwanda do not have sufficient access to information regarding optimal irrigation practices. To close this information gap, FutureWater has devised an innovation that can calculate a location-specific irrigation advice based on Virtual Weather Stations, expressed in an irrigation duration (“SOSIA”). The use of the outdated CROPWAT 8.0 method, and the lack of good coverage of real-time weather stations in Rwanda, means that current advice falls short. In addition, existing advisory services are often too expensive for the scale on which small to medium-sized farmers produce. There is a potential to increase the productivity of the irrigation water by up to 25%. Initially, the innovation will be disseminated via the Holland Greentech network, with a pilot in Rwanda consisting of 40 customers. Aside from further refining the SOSIA tool, upscaling strategies will be explored in this second phase to identify other intermediaries that could benefit from the SOSIA service so to realize its optimal impact.

FutureWater has found with Holland Greentech an ideal partner to roll-out this innovation due to their presence in and outside of Rwanda, where they provide irrigation kits and advice. This offers the opportunity to quickly scale-up the proposed innovation. With their expertise in agro-hydrological modeling and the African agricultural sector, FutureWater and Holland Greentech respectively have acquired ample experience to make this innovation project and its knowledge development to a success.

The tools can be accessed through online URLs for the Virtual Weather Stations and for the Irrigation Advisory Tool.