This week the training program on Real Water Savings in Thailand was started. This training is part of the project ‘Delivering Training on Real Water Savings (ReWaS) for the Regional Water Scarcity Program in Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Thailand and Afghanistan’ that FutureWater is rolling out in cooperation with the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAP) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

In this project, FutureWater offers a training program on Real Water Savings (ReWaS) to water management professionals from five different countries. ReWaS is a simple tool developed by FutureWater, to estimate the potential for generating real water savings from various agronomic, water management and technical practices in irrigated agriculture. The training will offer a tailored training package that facilitates an assessment of the impact of field scale crop-water interventions at the basin scale.

For the online training in Thailand, we started with an enthusiastic group of 25 water management professionals ranging from government officials to university students. We are looking forward to working together on real water savings for the coming weeks!

 

This tailor-made training aims to build capacity in using tools to support climate-smart irrigation strategies to improve salinity control and enhance agricultural production. The training provides participants with relevant hands-on experience and cutting-edge knowledge on innovative solutions in earth observation technologies and apply this to assess measures for increasing water efficiency in agriculture, increase production and achieve water and climate-smart agriculture.

The training programme will consist of two e-learning training periods, that are separated by a 3-week period of regular on-distance support. The main e-learning training will take place over a 6-week period and is structured around 3 training modules that are divided into several training sessions. These training sessions are comprised of plenary video conferences and include assignments that can be worked on pairwise of individually. Attendance and progress are monitored through the FutureWater Moodle School. Each training module is tailored around different tools for gaining insight into salinity issues, improving salinity control, and enhancing agricultural production in Iraq:

  1. Geospatial mapping of climatic variables, soil salinity and irrigated areas using remote sensing and cloud computing.
  2. Soil-water-plant modeling to determine optimal irrigation water allocations to control water tables and soil salinity.
  3. Crop water productivity options to achieve real water savings in irrigated agriculture.

It is expected that the obtained knowledge and capacity in better mitigating soil and water salinization problems will be embedded into the organization(s) of the participants. This will contribute to a further increase in the agricultural productivity and food security in Iraq.

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 developed 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.

A complete training package was 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

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/

In Angola, more and better-quality data is required to improve crop suitability assessments over large extensions of arable land to ensure sustainable food and income security. For example, environmental data on soil texture, soil water storage capacity, vegetation growth, terrain slopes, rainfall and air temperature are key to develop reliable crop suitability assessments. These datasets are available from state-of-the-art satellite-based products and machine learning observations (de Boer, 2016; Funk et al., 2015; Hengl et al., 2014, 2017). The benefit of these data products is that data can be obtained for any province, municipality, or farm in Angola. On top of that, data can be shown in maps to easily visualize spatial variation and identify the most suitable location and area to grow desired crops. Land-crop suitability maps are obtained by calculating a weighted average of the environmental variables that influence crop growth (e.g. rainfall, air temperature, soil water storage capacity), providing an integrated and complete assessment on where to plant. Also, potential crop yields are determined for desired cropping seasons using the FAO AquaCrop model to provide more information about potential income.

Irrigated agriculture in Angola has been developed in commercial farms using mainly central pivot and drip irrigation systems. The installation of new irrigation systems is foreseen in large extensions of land over 5000 hectares. Irrigated agriculture results in higher crop yields and allows higher incomes to farmers. However, commercial farms must invest in high energy supply to operate irrigation systems with water pumping stations. The challenge for irrigation system operators is to know exactly when and how much to irrigate during the cropping season. If better information about irrigation volumes and intervals are provided a significal reduction in energy costs could be achieved. The objective is to predict irrigation demand volumes during the cropping season and provide a user-friendly decision tool to irrigation operators. To achieve this, weather forecasts, remote sensing, and the SPHY model will be used.

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