Updated Jun 02, 2020

Martijn De klerk

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Flying Sensors to Support Farmers’ Decision Making

Our innovation is a major transformation in farmers’ decision making regarding theapplication of limited resources such as water, seeds, fertilizer and labor.For this we use low-cost high-resolution Flying Sensors (UAVs) in a development context and simultaneously develop a network of service providers in Mozambique and South Africa.Instead of relying on common-sense management, farmers are now...
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Our innovation is a major transformation in farmers’ decision making regarding theapplication of limited resources such as water, seeds, fertilizer and labor.For this we use low-cost high-resolution Flying Sensors (UAVs) in a development context and simultaneously develop a network of service providers in Mozambique and South Africa.Instead of relying on common-sense management, farmers are now able to take decisions based on facts, resulting in an increase in water productivity.
How does your innovation work?
A Flying Sensor is a combination of a flying platform and camera. Reliable Flying Sensors are on the market in a wide-range of categories each with its specific characteristics. Based on the consortium’s experiences over the last years low-cost Flying Sensors have been identified that are excellent equipped for our innovation. Typically a Flying Sensor flies at a height of 100 meter and overlapping images are taken about every 5 seconds. This results in individual images covering about 50 x 50 meter and an overlap of 5 images for each point on earth. So in order to cover 100 ha 500 images are taken during a flight. We trained several Flying Sensor operators, who are going to the fields on a daily basis to gather information with their Flying Sensors and advice farmers on potential interventions they could take. These operators are able to support over 400 small-scale farmers, by collecting information and sharing it with farmers on weekly basis. Based on the information, farmers take decisions on where to do what in terms of irrigation, fertilizer application and pesticides. When light falls on a leaf, reflection occurs. The amount of reflection of green light (0.54 µm) is very high, making plants green to the human eye. Healthy vegetation does not reflect much red light (0.7 µm), since it is absorbed by chlorophyll abundant in leafs. In the near-infrared spectrum (0,8 µm) the amount of reflection increases rapidly to 80% of the incoming light. This increase is caused by the transition of air between cell kernels. This is characteristic for healthy vegetation. Damaged plant material does not show this increase in reflected near-infrared light. Moreover, the reflection of red light is much higher than in healthy plant material. By measuring the reflection in these spectra, damaged plant material can be distinguished from healthy plant material (Schans et al., 2011). Our Flying Sensors have cameras which can measure the reflection of near-infrared light, as well as visible blue light. These two parameters are combined with a formula, giving the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). This information is delivered at a resolution of 2x2 cm in the infra-red spectrum. Infra-red is not visible to the human eye, but provides information on the status of the crop about two weeks earlier than what can be seen by the red-green-blue spectrum that is visible to the human eye. NDVI is the most important ratio vegetation index and says something about the photosynthesis activity of the vegetation. Moreover, NDVI is an indicator for the amount of leaf mass, and therefore, ultimately biomass. In general, open fields have a NDVI value of around 0.2 and healthy vegetation of around 0.8. NDVI values give an indication of crop stress. This can be caused by a lack of water, lack of fertilizer, pests or abundancy of weeds.
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Stage 5: Scaling

Crop monitoring with Flying Sensors was tested by us successfully in several settings and at different locations. In Mozambique we currently have 6 active operators providing service to more than 3,500 farmers over more than 1,600 ha.On a local scale we are supported by two irrigation schemes (regadios) which are public authorities: RBL and HICEP. On a national level we are supported by INIR (Instituto Nacional de Irrigação), part of the Ministry of Agriculture. Over the past 2 years we have transferred our technical skills to the local ThirdEye operators. They now have the capacity to deal with technical issues and are very skilled in providing advice to farmers, helping them improve their water productivity.
The number of active farmers benefiting from ThirdEye services is 1,381 in Xai-Xai and 1,510 in Chókwè, making 2,891 farmers in total. Due to a change in ThirdEye service areas, 642 farmers received the service in the past but are not receiving the service any longer. The cumulative number of farmers having received the ThirdEye service is therefore 3,533. Questionnaire results show that 81% of the farmers in Xai-Xai and 62% in Chókwè are female. Thus, the amount of active female farmers benefiting from the ThirdEye services is 1,120 in Xai-Xai and 938 in Chókwè, giving 2,058 in total.
The direct water use reduction due to ThirdEye was 9.1%.Furthermore, it should be noted that ThirdEye provided an increase in relative crop production of 41.4%, meaning the water productivity was increased drastically (less water is used to achieve the same crop yield as without ThirdEye services). This data is supported with a study on crop yields in the ThirdEye area and 2 similar non-ThirdEye areas in Xai-Xai and a study looking at NDVI differences in the ThirdEye area and a similar non-ThirdEye area in Xai-Xai. The water productivity was increased with 60% in Xai-Xai and 50% in Chókwè, giving an overall (direct plus indirect) water saving of 3,702,165,322 liters.
Registered in Netherlandsin Netherlands

Focus Areas:

Agriculture, Agriculture Water Management, Soil Management and 9 MoreSEE ALL

Agriculture, Agriculture Water Management, Soil Management, Entrepreneurship, Methods & Learning, Mentoring/Coaching, Natural Resources, Economic Empowerment, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), GIS/Mapping, Technology and InclusionSEE LESS

Implemented In:

Nepal, Mozambique, Netherlands and 2 MoreSEE ALL

Nepal, Mozambique, Netherlands, Spain and United KingdomSEE LESS

17,665
Lives Impacted to Date
5
Countries Implemented In
$334,002
Funds Raised to Date
Verified Funding
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Mission and Vision

  • Number of smallholder farmers using our service: 3,533
  • Number of female smallholder farmers using our service: 2,455 (71%)
  • Number of beneficiaries: 17,665
  • Number of female beneiciaries: 8,833
  • Number of operators trained: 14
  • Number of operators currently active: 6
  • Number of female operators currently active: 1
  • Flying Sensors supplied and used on a daily basis: 11
  • Number of liters of water saved per season: 663,058,894
  • Number of hectares benefiting from ThirdEye: 1,602 ha

Competitive Advantage

Our innovation can be considered as a major transformation in farmers’ decision making regarding their agronomic practices. Instead of relying on common-sense management, farmers are now able to take decisions based on facts. The Flying Sensor information helps farmers to see when and where they should apply their limited resources. We are convinced that this innovation is a real game-changing 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 manage also their inputs to maximize yields, and simultaneously reduce unnecessary waste of resources. In summary the missing information on markets has been solved by the mobile phone introduction, the Flying Sensors close the missing link to agronomic information on where to do what and when. The use of Flying Sensor is unique and no comparative techniques exist that provide farmers with real-time high-resolution information. The use of satellites to provide farmers with spatial information has been promoted but has three main limitations: they have fixed overpass times, the spatial resolution is low, and the presence of clouds halters the information. It is unlikely that, within the coming decades, progress in satellites will be real competitors of Flying Sensors. Another category of comparable techniques to provide farmers with information is the use of ground sensors. Typical examples of these sensors are soil moisture devices, soil sampling and laboratory analysis, crop sampling and laboratory analysis. However, all those sensor techniques have the common limitation that information is only local point representative, while the main question farmers have is regarding to spatial differences. Moreover, these ground sensors are in all cases too expensive to be used by small-scale farmers.

Planned Goals and Milestones

Crop monitoring with Flying Sensors was tested by us successfully in several settings and at different locations. For example, apart from direct crop monitoring with NDVI, we developed different monitoring methods such as weed monitoring and land level monitoring, making use of Near-Infrared images and Digital Elevation Modelling. Part of our business model is a support unit, which was initiated this year by hiring a field manager. Her main tasks are to find potential commercial clients in Mozambique, making it possible to use payment from these clients to keep helping smallholder farmers, manage current operating activities and conduct PR and dissemination. Over the past weeks, we have made tremendous efforts by submitting several proposals to commercial farmers and clients in new coutries/markets for implementing our ThirdEye services. To promote sales, operators conduct demonstration flights at commercial farmers, after which the ThirdEye team makes tailored proposals to be submitted to these farmers. In this process our Field Manager Nadja den Besten plays an important role.
The next step is to become part of The Water Data Challenge, providing breakthrough in all three areas, and become a sustainable service provider in South Africa. For this we will actively promote capacity development of extension agents and farmers by training them to use our user-centered flying sensor technology, together with open-source processing tools. Easy-to-understand crop stress maps and other tailor-made maps will be made available to farmers by using an online platform. These maps are used to improve the extension service to farmers and significantly increase their water productivity and reduce input costs (water, fertilizer, pesticides and labour).South African innovating company FarmBoek, who provide farmers with a timely information platform to solve problems in the agricultural sector, andWaluwachi Environmental and Agricultural Consultants, who employ many extension agents providing advice to farmers,will be actively involved in this process. By partnering with public institutions such as the Department of Science and Technology, universities, and the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP), who work with the public and private sectors to invest in fertilizer markets so African smallholder farmers can grow food and profits,we willcreatepublic-private knowledge sharing methods. All of this will be accelerated byFetola, anon-profit South African organisation that fosters job creation and thrives communities through sustainable social and economic development initiatives. The project in South Africa will work closely together with ThirdEye Mozambique, for example by involving senior Mozambican operators in the development of new operating units in South Africa. The programme will also enable us to further develop our data-led, highly cost-effective innovation. Knowledge exchange will be highly valued, meaning technology improvements in either country will be taken up by the other. At the same time, we are looking at expanding our support unit in Mozambique and intensify collaboration with the irrigation districts. Moreover, we want to provide service tocommercial clients in Mozambique, making it possible to use payment from these clients to keep helping smallholder farmers.
Funding Goal435,421
Projected Cumulative Lives Impacted17,665

Milestone

Date Unknown
Created
Date Unknown
New Country Implemented In
Nepal

Supporting Materials

ThirdEye_WaterProductivityReport.pdf