Most Sub Saharan farmers have limited resources and no access to farm data. Appropriate information at the right location and timing is essential for these farmers to make decisions regarding application of their limited resources such as water, seeds, fertilizer and labour. FutureWater has therefore developed a service using low-cost flying sensors in a development context to ensure that farmers will get information at their specific level of understanding and simultaneously develop a network of service providers. The flying sensors provide valuable high-resolution information, using near-infrared, thermal and visual imagery to detect crop stress in farm fields. Near-infrared light is not visible to the human eye, but provides information on the status of the crop about 10 days earlier than that yielded by the red-green-blue spectrum that is visible to the human eye. Based on the images, which have a resolution of about 2 cm/pixel, farmers can take decisions on where to do what in terms of irrigation, fertilizer application and pesticides.
With flying sensors (drones) we can provide this essential information:
- At an ultra-high spatial resolution
- At an unprecedentedly flexibility in location and timing
- At a spectrum outside the human eye
- At an in-country business oriented approach
We are convinced that this innovation is a game changer comparable with the introduction of mobile phones that empowered farmers with instantaneous information regarding markets and market prices. With information from flying sensors they can also manage their inputs to maximize yields and simultaneously reduce unnecessary waste of resources. Instead of relying on common-sense management, farmers are now able to take decisions based on facts, resulting in an increase in water productivity. In summary, the flying sensors close the missing link to agronomic information on where to do what and when, leading to more crop per drop!
Over the past years we have successfully set-up operational flying sensor services for smallholder farmers in Kenya and Mozambique. At present we serve thousands of farmers at multiple locations through a network of local operators. Our business model pinpoints the need to set up independent, self-standing companies in African countries, as already accomplishedin Kenya and Mozambique. These companies employ local agronomists who are trained in using flying sensors to go to farmers’ fields, conduct flights, analyze the images and use these to provide advice to farmers, for which they get paid directly.
Right now we are working on integrating thermal cameras with the flying sensors to specifically detect water related crop stress and are developing online portals through which all the flying sensor maps are made available. One of these portals can be found here.