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.

To leapfrog the transformation of African agriculture, FutureWater, HiView, Holland Greentech (HGT) and ThirdEye Kenya bundle their strengths by merging key frontier technologies into an agronomic advisory service that allows improving the productivity and profitability of maize, tea and coffee farmers in five districts in Kenya. State-of-art technologies that will be developed and packaged into one integrated solution are low-cost flying sensors (drones), soil testing, climate smart inputs, farmer coaching and an interactive online planning & monitoring portal. Our unique Climate Smart Farming technology is disruptive as it collects data at low cost and links directly with the solutions to close the yield gap of farmers.

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. 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.

The service comprises of (i) drone flights executed by AgroPilots (functioning as both pilots and agronomic advisor), (ii) soil tests and soil fertility advisory, (iii)  aerial imagery processing & interpretation, (iv) agronomical advisory on inputs & irrigation and (v) advisory on sourcing plans and access to market. Flying sensors and state-of-art data analysis will be used to monitoring the progress of the newly applied practices. By identifying field specific limiting factors that currently constrain productivity of maize, tea and coffee farmers (using flying sensors) and by providing concrete climate smart solutions, farmers can better adapt to climate change and can increase their field production, leading to more profitable farmers and an improved food security for the future to come.

Flying sensor data will be gathered, processed and analyzed during the first growing season, which serves as a baseline (reference) for the rest of the project period. The imagery acquired with the flying sensors (at regular intervals) will also be used in combination with FAO’s AquaCrop crop growth model to make estimations of crop yield (or land productivity). This will require additional activities in crop surveying and field observations and further imagery processing to achieve maps of the vegetation status and canopy cover. The approach for calculating land productivity is based on light use efficiency models which converts canopy cover to biomass production and is tailored to potato with crop-specific parameters. The end result will give information on the crop yields achieved from each plot, as shown in the figure below.

Map of dry yield (left) and yield gap based on the difference with the best performing plot (right) for maize plots in a previous study in Mozambique.

After the initial data gathering and analysis process, the findings will be translated into action plans for the lead farmers. They will be trained and coached to improve their farming practices and use climate-smart agricultural (CSA) practices. Following this step, we will facilitate access to inputs and conceptualize distribution systems for agro-inputs for the lead farmers. After providing the farmers with this valuable advice, data will be gathered again using flying sensors and soil samples over the course of the next growing seasons. Implementation of the farmer action plans, training of farmers, and advisory services directly based on the flying sensor vegetation status maps are expected to contribute to an increase in crop productivity. Crop yield calculations will be done at the end of each season.

Geodata tools have been developing rapidly in the past years and are vastly adopted by researchers and increasingly by policy-makers. However, the is still great potential to increase the practical application of these tools in the agricultural sector, which is currently applied by a limited number of ‘pioneering’ farmers. The information that can be gained from geodata tools on irrigation management, pest and nutrient management, and crop selection, is a valuable asset for farmers. Key players for providing such information to the farmers are the extensions officers. This project aims at training extensions officers in the use of these geodata tools. The beneficiaries in Egypt are: Tamkeen for Advanced Agriculture, FAODA, IDAM, Bio-Oasis, and LEPECHA. The selected participants will receive a training programme which consists firstly of several session on the background and theory of the geodata tools, provided through our online teaching platform ( Starting from May (2021) field schools will be set up to use the geodata tools for decision-making in these demonstration plots. In addition, modules are taught on the quality of the data, and profitability of such tools. Altogether, a group of carefully selected participants will receive training on these innovative tools and create a bridge to providing this information to farmers specifically the smallholder farmers.

Recently, the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program introduced agriculture and water as a new cluster in its strategic framework. Recognizing the complexities of the water sector and the existing landscape of cooperation activities, the strategic framework proposes a complementary approach that uses the strengths of CAREC to further promote dialogue on water issues. A scoping study was commissioned, supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), to develop a framework for the Water Pillar for further consideration by the governing bodies of CAREC. It was agreed that the initial focus of the Water Pillar should be on the five Central Asian states with consideration given to expanding to other CAREC member countries over time.

The objective of the study is to develop the scope of a Water Pillar Framework that includes a roadmap of national development interventions for each of the five Central Asian Republics that responds to the prevailing challenges and opportunities in water resources management.

The framework will be derived from three specific outputs:

  • Output 1: Projection of future availability and demand for water resources for the Central Asia region up to 2050 including implications of climate change.
  • Output 2: Identification of future water resources development and management opportunities in the form of a sector specific framework for water resources infrastructure taking into consideration sustainability issues through a comparative assessment of cost recovery mechanisms and operation and maintenance (O&M) practices.
  • Output 3: Preparation of a framework for policy and institutional strengthening that addresses common themes and issues related to national water resources legislation and the capacity and knowledge development needs of water resources agencies with an emphasis on economic aspects and sustainable financing.

For this work, several consultants were recruited. FutureWater provides key inputs on the climate change and water resources aspects, including desk review, stakeholder consultations across the five regions and across all sectors, and analysis of climate change risks and identification of adaptation options that have a regional dimension and can be taken up through regional or bilateral cooperation.

This project is part of the technical-innovation support provided by FutureWater to ECOPRADERAS, an EIP-AGRI Operational Group led by Ambienta Ing. and co-funded by the EU and the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture. As a general objective, ECOPRADERAS aims to improve the sustainable management of grasslands located at the Alagon Valley (Extremadura, Spain) through: (1) the transfer and implementation of innovative technologies, (2) the identification and strengthening of good cultural practices, and (3) the dissemination of the most relevant information and results among end users.

In the frame of ECOPRADERAS, FutureWater is tasked with the development of an operational monitoring tool able to inform, at the regional scale, on the health status of the grasslands by using satellite data of moderate spatial resolution. The ECOPRADERAS monitor includes the following innovative features:

  • Generation of a categorical index indicative of the health status of grasslands based on the combination of indices of spatial and temporal greenness anomalies.
  • Higher spatial details by using satellite images of moderate spatial resolution (collection of Landsat-8TM of 30 m resolution)
  • Large improvement for collecting and processing large satellite datasets by using the Google Earth Engine cloud-based geoprocessing platform (collection of Landsat-8TM from January 2014 onwards)
  • A user friendly web-mapping interface to visualize outputs

The methodology used by FutureWater uses massive data processing technologies in the cloud (Google Earth Engine) to compute a pixel-based categorical index that result of the combination of a spatial and a temporal anomaly of the greenness index (NDVI). After a local calibration that needs to be adopted, this qualitative index, called the Combined Index of Normalized Anomalies (ICAN) (figure), classifies the status of grasslands in the region of interest into different categories that informs on the health grasslands and how are they being managed. With the ICAN, land managers and local actors can early detect those portions in the landscape in which management practices may pose a risk for the sustainability of the agropastoral system and then would require special attention for improving them.

Logic diagram for computing the Combined Index of Normalized Anomalies (ICAN) in the ECOPRADERAS Monitor.The specific tasks developed by FutureWater included: the definition of a methodological framework for monitor the health of grasslands at the regional scale, the design of a processing and web-mapping platform and its practical implementation in the Alagon Valley (182 km2) from September 2019 to July 2020, and the calibration-validation of the results by comparing outputs with field observations collected in different pilot sites by other project partners.

An evaluation of the results points out to the strength of the methodology. The processing architecture is also easily scalable to other regions and rangeland landscapes. Further improvements have been also envisioned. The ECOPRADERAS Monitor stands as a very powerful tool to guide landscape managers local stakeholders on better decisions.

ECOPRADERAS Monitor at the Alagon Valley (Extremadura, Spain)

In 2017, AFD approved to finance the Water Resources Management and Agro-ecological Transition for Cambodia “WAT4CAM” Program Phase 1. This program will contribute to reduce poverty, develop the economy and reduce the vulnerability of rural populations to climate change by implementing a hydro-agricultural infrastructures rehabilitation program through an integrated approach, targeting the whole chain of water resources management, water services and agricultural production.

The strategy is to achieve intensification of cropping, modernization and climate smart practices to provide farmers with secure access to water. This is a challenging objective and a good understanding of the hydraulics of water flows in dry and wet season is needed. A consortium led by FutureWater was hired to perform WAT4CAM subcomponent 3.1, which concentrates on providing this understanding of both flood and dry season flows, demands and balance in the Preks intended for rehabilitation.

The initial stages of the project include the identification of current data, models and previous work, as well as a field survey with stakeholders. This information will be used to create an accurate and reliable modelling ensemble that makes maximum use of existing capacity in Cambodia. In addition, the consortium will use satellite-derived data products to (i) provide input to the simulation models, and (ii) calibrate and validate model results. Various sources of satellite imagery will be explored to map floods and irrigation practices, to implement an integrated “space hydrology” approach.

The modelling and knowledge generation from this study must support the other WAT4CAM components for the successful implementation of the Prek irrigation system improvements. The modelling itself is thus not the ultimate purpose, but rather the understanding and knowledge imparted to MoWRAM and the other components of the WAT4CAM program.

FutureWater’s role in the project is the overall project coordination and administration, as well as the implementation of satellite remote sensing and climate change analyses in support of the modelling components.

Aim of the training

The training will enhance capacity of Egerton educational staff in accessing and using innovative data and tools in the public domain, to analyse crop performance and irrigation management. During the training, university participants will be specifically supported in developing course modules based on the skills gained. To maximize the impact in addressing the need for increased quality of higher education in the agricultural sector, representatives from other institutes, ministries and private sector companies will also be invited. The training will allow the staff to gain advanced skills in working with flying sensors (drones) and satellite-derived data to support agricultural and water-related challenges, such as pests and diseases, water efficiency in agriculture to enhance food security, and drought monitoring. They will acquire insight in and knowledge on analyzing the performance of crops, making the right intervention decisions and giving irrigation advice. For public sector representatives, the training objective is to obtain skills that can be directly and sustainably implemented in their respective organizations.

Overall, the Kenyan society at large will benefit from improved food security provided by well-educated agricultural researchers and professionals. This project forms an important step in the capacity building strategy as it focuses on strengthening the universities and preparing them to provide high quality education to the future generation agronomists and agricultural managers, as well as upgrading the knowledge of current professionals.

The training costs of four stages: an online training course, followed by an in-country training program, symposium and post-training support.

Stage 1: eTraining course

The first stage involved a weekly online training course that will start in January 2021, with a total of six sessions in six weeks. Participants will be consisting of University and TVET faculty members, university students, PhD candidates, researchers, Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) staff members, Agriculture Extension Staff from the County Government who are already involved in agricultural research and training and other private sector partners. Staff members from the university will be those that are involved in teaching agronomy, horticulture, agriculture engineering and agriculture extension courses and programs, i.e., soil, nutrient and water management, dryland farming, irrigated agriculture and crop protection. Non-university attendants will be technical staff who are close to the decision makers within their organizations. This will enhance the impact of the training by embedding the use of flying sensor and satellite-derived data for agriculture within these organizations and make sure that Kenya will pursue its activities in making use of this kind of information.

This first stage of the training course will be online and will focus on:

  1. Real Water Savings in Agricultural Systems including potential field interventions
  2. The use of WAPOR to access remotely sensed derived data
  3. The use of flying sensors (drones) in agriculture

The course will end with a test and evaluation and graduates will receive a certificate.

Stage 2: Targeted in-country training

After the first stage training a second in-country training will take place with a smaller group, focusing on the use of drones in agriculture. Here a selected group of 12 to 18 members will be trained. Focus will be on staff with lecturing responsibilities, to ensure impact on higher education provision and transfer of the new skills to students.

The in-depth training will consist of:

  1. Operating flying sensors manually and automatic, the processing of the collected data using open source software, interpretation and the subsequent decision making (recommendations to increase productivity) for (smallholder) farmers and actors
  2. Use satellite derived (precipitation) products to run crop growth models to provide advice on when and how much to irrigate in agricultural fields

Participants will work on hands-on exercises related to crop performance analyses, water demands and crop growth modelling. Application of the new skills will be further stimulated by assigning the participants clear, tailor-made goals at the end of the second training session, to be worked on during the distant-support period.

Stage 3: Symposium/knowledge sharing

Right after the second training session, a symposium will be organized for a larger audience including the superiors/managers (who most of the times are the final decision makers) of the training participants and representatives of similar organizations. During this knowledge sharing event, trainees and trainers will actively provide contributions to showcase the newly gained skills and their added value to the respective institutions and the Kenyan agricultural sector in general. By acquainting the responsible decision makers in these organizations with the potential applications of flying sensor and satellite-derived data relevant to them, this event will be crucial in ensuring a sustainable impact of the TMT.

Stage 4: Post-training support

In this period, progress will be actively monitored and the trainers will provide post-training support to the participants. The support will be both remotely (e.g. through Skype) by the Dutch training providers but also in-person by ThirdEye Kenya staff visiting the participants for Q&A sessions and to evaluate the implementation of the skills they obtained.

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a UNESCO-declared Biosphere Reserve, is an isolated mountain complex encompassing approximately 17,000 km², set apart from the Andes chain that runs through Colombia. The Sierra Nevada has the world’s highest coastal peak (5,775 m above sea level) just 42 kilometres from the Caribbean coast. The Sierra Nevada is the source of 36 basins, making it the major regional ‘water factory’ supplying 1.5 million inhabitants as well as vast farming areas in the surrounding plains used mainly for the cultivation of banana and oil palm. The main problems to be solved in these basins are: i) Declining availability of water for irrigation, ii) Declining availability and quality of water for human consumption, iii) Increasing salinization of ground water and soils, iv) Increasing incidence of floods.

This is a feasibility study on the adoption of more efficient irrigation techniques by oil palm farmers in the Sevilla basin (713 km²), one of the key basins in the Sierra Nevada. The general objective is to identify the local environment at basin scale, the limiting factors and suitable field interventions in oil palm areas to improve the water use. A preparation and implementation phase was developed including an initial baseline assessment of the basin on climate, water availability, drought hazard, soil characteristics, land use, and topography. The agronomy (e.g. cultivars) and current field practices (e.g. nutrient management and irrigation practices) of the oil palm areas were characterized, and the crop water requirements determined. In addition, costs and benefits associated to the implementation of efficient irrigation technologies such as fertigation and water harvesting were assessed. Potential locations, risks and opportunities for water harvesting were evaluated with the idea to store water in the wet season to be able to use the resource in an efficient way in the dry season. A range of GIS and satellite-based datasets (e.g. CHIRPS, MODIS-ET, MODIS-NDVI, HiHydroSoil) were used to evaluate the environmental conditions, and local data and information was provided by local partners Cenipalma and Solidaridad to generate a comprehensive assessment at basin and field scale. The expectation is that fertigation and water harvesting techniques can be adopted in the Sevilla basin, but also in other basins in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to reduce the environmental impact of oil palm production.

The Asian Development Bank supports Tajikistan in achieving increased climate resilience and food security through investments in modernization of Irrigation and Drainage (I&D) projects. A Technical Assistance is preparing modernization projects for two I&D systems in the Lower Vaksh river basin in Tajikistan. In line with this, the TA will prepare a holistic feasibility study and project design for the system (38,000 ha), as well as advanced designs and bidding documents for selected works.

FutureWater is part of the team of international experts, working together with the local consultant on the climate risk and adaptation assessment that accompanies the feasibility projects. For this purpose, past climate trends will be analyzed, climate model projections processed, and a climate impact model will be used to assess how the project performs under a wide range of future conditions, to assess the robustness of the proposed I&D investments, and identify possible climate adaptation measures.

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.

The project should increase agricultural water use productivity in the selected agricultural districts in Uzbekistan through a threefold approach: (i) climate resilient and modernized I&D infrastructure to improve measurement, control and conveyance within existing systems; (ii) enhanced and reliable onfarm water management including capacity building of water consumers’ associations (WCAs), physical improvements for land and water management at the farm level and application of high level technologies for increased water productivity; and (iii) policy and institutional strengthening for sustainable water resources management. This will include strategic support to the Ministry of Water Resources (MWR) and its provincial, basin and district agencies.

The project supports the Strategy of Actions on Further Development of Uzbekistan (2017), which includes: (i) introduction of water saving technologies and measures to mitigate the negative impact of climate change and drying of the Aral Sea; (ii) further improvement of irrigated lands and reclamation and irrigation facilities; and (iii) modernization of agriculture by educating areas of cotton and cereal crops to expand horticulture production.

FutureWater focuses on the climate risk and adaptation assessment that accompanies the feasibility projects, and will analyze climate trends, climate model projections, climate impacts on the projects and assess adaptation options.

Watch the video below to learn more about the management of Climate Adaptive Water Resources in the Aral Sea Basin in Uzbekistan (source: ADB)