In November 2018, just after the TWIGA days in Kumasi, Ghana, FutureWater, together with partners Hiview and Farmerline, conducted a pilot study using flying sensors (drones) to enhance irrigation water productivity and yields of pineapple farmers.

Pineapple is a key economic resource in Ghana, but pineapple yields generally remain low. Yield losses occur due to water deficiency and pests during the crop development. Furthermore, we discovered that the market for irrigation advisory services is largely untapped, given that not much is being done to this respect in Ghana. Smallholder pineapple farmers do not irrigate at all and most commercial farms only practice supplementary irrigation or fertigation. This has mainly to do with the high irrigation costs and perceived drought resistance of pineapples.

Concept of the geo-service to assess and monitor water productivity for pineapple farms.

To assist in mitigating the high irrigation costs and to provide insight into potential yield gains by applying targeted irrigation, FutureWater is developing an irrigation advice geo-service that combines flying sensor imagery providing high-resolution information on crop growth status, and a crop growth model that uses this data to estimate crop water consumption, crop yield and water productivity. Yield gaps (difference between the actual yield and potential yield) can also be assessed and mapped.

Preliminary outcomes from the pilot study show a great potential for flying sensors to monitor crop growth status at the plot level. In contrast to satellite data, flying sensor imagery can detect individual plants and provide near-real time information about the condition of each plant. This information can be processed into a tailored irrigation advice at the plot-level, which can help the pineapple farmers save water and costs while being able to obtain higher yields.

Working closely with partners in the TWIGA consortium, FutureWater is looking forward to further develop this geo-service for sustainable agricultural growth in Africa.