Using satellite remote sensing to generate personalized crop diagnosis & advice for local farmers via SMS.
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Yelwa Doma is a typical rural community who economy is largely driven by farming. About 99% of the villagers are occupational farmers and rely on farm produce for household livelihood. Our finding shows that any private or government intervention in agriculture and food security will amount to a drop in the ocean IF smallholder farmers are not included in the big picture. Present interventions are not leveraging technology enough to reach more farmers and elevate their enterprise and this is why we started this venture. Be begin our relationship with visit periodic meetings with the village-based farmer organisation. Once an agreement to work together has been established, we deploy a staff member to live the in village for a week and train the lead farmer and other farmers on our precision agriculture tools and how to interpret the advises and it continues from there. We stay with the farmers from land preparation till harvest using technology assistance. So far, we have registered over 400 farmers into our precision ag platform and growing. Our relationship with the farmers is similar to that of a doctor-patient relationship (because we help diagnose their crop for stress and diseases, and diagnose the soil for nutrient levels in near-realtime using satellite remote sensing).
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Captured during one of routine M&E trips.
The easiest way to access and navigate this farming community is via a motorbike, and it's very much fun too.
Our village-based extension worker.
Group photo with farmers after a second townhall meeting with smallholder farmer.
Yelwa Doma is a typical rural community whose population of farmers is about 1500. There is a tarred road from the state capital through the village; not the best road surface in the world but motorable for moving farming machinery to (and farm produce) from the community. The villages are a mix of various ethnicity; major language spoken are Alago, Eggon, Tiv and Hausa. The village is headed by a Chief who goes by the title Zaki. The biggest challenge facing the farmers is uncontrolled cattle intrusion into farms causing severe damages to the crop and economic loss to the farmer's household. The major stable food in Yelwa Doma is flour meal from maize, cassava and rice had with a fish soup with some veggies. It doesn't really scent nice but the taste is both delicious and nutritious. The land is a flat Savannah stretch with a large network of river tributaries from a large water dam up north in Doma town. Agriculture is the primary occupation of the inhabitants of Yelwa Doma who grow the following economic crops: sesame/beniseed and melon. However, they also grow the crops that are both food and cash crop; maize, rice, cassava, groundnut, guinea corn, millet, and yam. The hope and aspiration of the people are to modernize their farming practices; this includes the deployment of tractors for different scopes (ploughing, harrowing, fertilizer application, seed planting, etc) AND use of satellite remote sensing for precision agriculture, AND access to microcredit for financing improved seeds variety and fertilizer.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Inadequate of modern farming knowledge: There's an inherent bias against technological farming practices coupled with lack of access to microcredit. The biggest one of them is low literacy rate making it difficult to understand the latest information on agronomy; as a result, most farmers still use some outdated farming practices.
Lack of scale: Existing agricultural extension program require human (in-person) interfacing with farmers with little or no technology assistance, making it extremely difficult to provide adequate service at scale; especially with an inadequate budget for logistics preventing extension workers from reaching remote farming villages.
Rural poverty: Low agricultural yields leading to low income for farmers in Nigeria.
Youth unemployment: Agriculture is the largest employer of labour in Nigeria. As more farmers age and are not able to increase crop yield, the growth of their farm enterprise stalls leading to their inability to hire new people.
Climate change: We are already on the curve! The capacity of farmers, especially smallholder, to produce food is already being threatened by climate change. Hence, there's an urgent need for a sustainable means of growing food by farmers without hurting the environment and own livelihood without knowing it.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
We have developed a software that combines satellite remote sensing indices and a digital library of good agronomic practices to provide smallholder farmers with tailored farming advice "remotely" via SMS. Our e-Extension solution provides an efficient means of measuring & managing stress factors to photosynthesis throughout the crop’s phenology to maximize yield potential. These factors include moisture, nutrient and disease, monitoring and mitigating these can protect the yield potential. We combine scientific technique for observing farm crops remotely AND a database of expert researched knowledge, advice and recommendations on what to do.
There's a dashboard that empowers traditional extension worker to administer professional advice to hundreds of farmers remotely from their office, home or on the go. This is a game-changer to how government-run extension programs can have even more impact at lower costs/budget.
With the ability to monitor and manage crop growth remotely, over a laptop or mobile phone, farming will suddenly more attractive to young people, boosting employment.
(1) Satellite remote sensing & IoT (2) Database (3) SMS server
(1) Proprietary software that measures satellite indices and compares datasets to provide tailored agronomic advice (2) Advice sent to farmers via SMS (3) Village-based extension workers employed to ensure farmers understand and implement the advice.
(1) Farmers receive a specific number of SMS per growing season, containing up to 12 types of farming advice (2) Farmer visits extension workers.
(1) Increased crop yield; approx. 25% per item of advice applied (2) A better understanding of sustainable agronomic practices (3) Increased access to personalized agronomic info
(4) Higher-income due to higher volume of crops sold; potentially 200-1000% higher (5) Reduced consumption of fertilizer and other agricultural inputs (6) Improved market linkages and formalization of farming yield data
(7) More resilient livelihoods (8) Lower youth unemployment (9) Increased climate resilience and reduced environmental impact (10) Better access to finance and other agricultural inputs
OUR PLAN FOR 2050
(1) Automate agricultural advisory and extension services for local farmers.
(2) Design a smartphone adoption strategy that involves microcredit to local farmers to own pay off the loan for a smartphone over 1-2 years. The smartphone will come pre-loaded with precision agriculture tools (both the ones developed by us and third party).
(3) Implement an "Uber for tractor" model at the village level to encourage affordable mechanization service for farms serially.
(4) A barter system integrated into an established commodity trading platform that enables buyers/industries to fund a microcredit facility for an out-grower program where the farmers are able to repay using their farm produce that can be aggregated for the commodity market lenders.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
At least 1,000 farming households will be able to produce yield sufficient enough to guarantee decent wage and/or household income and revitalise their rural economy.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Smallholder farmers are normal people that need a little bit of technology enabler to improve their lives and those of their household.
Map of Yelwa Doma
My father was born into a family whose primary occupation is farming. He would walk through several hectares looking crops that are stressed or diseased. It’s not an easy thing. When such fault is identified, he'd ask the more experienced farmers for what to do or wait for a govt extension staff to show up at the village. Today, these extension workers don’t show up in many villages anymore (including ours); and when they do, their service is inadequate. As a result, millions of farmers are not able to access the latest information on best farming practices leading to their inability to improve yield, manage pest attack & stubborn weeds, and access premium market for their harvest.
THIS is why we developed software that leverages satellite data for monitoring and diagnosing large areas of farms in near-realtime. Personal advice is delivered to each farmer directly into their phones as SMS, in their local language, regardless of where they are. Our team have the requisite experience, academic qualification and expertise to execute this project: Degrees in Agricultural Extension, Trade, Engineering, Computer Science, Marketing, and Business Administration; Work experience with African Development Bank, Hewlett Packard, Shell Petroleum, German Cooperation (GIZ), UK DFID, and in Earth Observatory Satellite Remote Sensing. So far, we've developed and are deploying this solution (in phases) across 4 communities in 2019.
Prior to developing this solution, we had piloted its viability and need in Yelwa Doma and another community to a varying degree of good success. Because my father's farming experience was not enough to build a premise, we had to visit Yelwa (not my community) to meet with the farmer (picture attached) and find out what their farming challenges are to corroborate with ours. To ensure our project as sustainable, we employ a village-based staff (selected by the village head) and transfer some of the key knowledge and required technical know-how to him/her for onward propagation. In choosing what crop value chain to promote, we are registered as a trader in commodities exchange platform; this will help us keep tabs on market demand and advise the farmers accordingly.
Personalized information on the state of crop growth is a primary need for smallholder farmers. Also important is access to microcredit to purchase inputs for farming (seeds, fertilizer, herbicide, etc). While we may not be able to provide credit to the farmers, we can (however) provide precision agriculture advice that enables the farmer to optimize these inputs according to the resources available.
(1) Satellite imaging also enables us plan and manage a community-based Uber-tractor; with this, we are able to optimize expense (diesel use) through clustering of daily mechanization operations instead of randomly driving the tractor around and wasting diesel in inter-farm commute.
(2) With our software technology, we are able to visualize nutrient distribution in the soil so the farmer can precisely target areas with nutrient deficiency through micro-dosing of fertilizer. This has proven to be effective in returning good quality yield.
(3) Our software enables us to monitor the time series of each farm's crop phenology; identifying areas of stress and disease early for mitigation. Once a farm's GPS is registered in our system, the farmer will receive prompt updates and advice on their crop health, and how to manage pest attacks. Towards the end of the growth cycle, we are able to predict when harvest will be due for each farm and coordinate the commodity traders for offtaking.
POTENTIAL & DISRUPTION
On job displacement:
Widescale implementation of our project will result in the exclusion of non-technologically literate farmers. However, this could potentially be mitigated by having a village-based extension worker. In like manner, it could result in a potential (partial) displacement of government extension jobs. Technologically literate farmers will be able to manage their farm from a mobile device and this could pave way for the automation of farm mechanisation at the village level; this includes market-driven farming where farmers can share data with the commodity trading market in a seamless way that impart pricing mechanism and influences supply-chain on a broader regional scale.
On crop production:
Conservatively, it costs $240 to cultivate 1 hectare of maize; to put that in context, that is the cost of living on the poverty line for 8 months. Now, a direct transfer of this amount in microcredit will translate into a sustainable path to economic empowerment; with precision agriculture advice from us (see the section on "Addressing the challenge"), it will return up to 300% in income. In other words, it is not enough to be able to buy fertilizer but much more important to know where and how to apply them effectively.
Investment in our project system creates impact as it generates competitive investor return. The rationale behind this alignment is a lock-step between revenue and impact; higher sales of service subscriptions will result in better crop yields for the smallholder farmers. Sequel to that, environmental and social factors are improved by focusing on sustainable (environmentally friendly) agricultural inputs AND providing employment to local extension workers in marginalized area respectively.