A key factor in enabling an increase and efficiency in food production is providing farmers with relevant information. Such information is needed as farmers have limited resources (seed, water, fertilizer, pesticides, human power) and are always in doubt in which location and when they should supply these resources. Interesting is that especially smallholders, with their limited resources, are in need of this kind of information. Spatial information from flying sensors (drones) can be used for this. Flying sensors offer also the opportunity to obtain information outside the visible range and can therefore detect information hidden for the human eye (Third Eye). Nowadays, low-cost sensors in the infra-red spectrum can detect crop stress about two weeks before the human eye can see this.
The ThirdEye project supports farmers in Mozambique and Kenya by setting up a network of flying sensors operators. These operators are equipped with flying sensors and tools to analyse the obtained imagery. Our innovation is a major transformation in farmers’ decision making regarding the application of limited resources such as water, seeds, fertilizer and labor. Instead of relying on common-sense management, farmers are now able to take decisions based on facts, resulting in an increase in water productivity. 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 also manage 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.
From 2014 to 2017, FutureWater has been granted support from the Securing Water for Food program, funded by USAID, Sida and the Dutch Government of Foreign Affairs, for piloting the use of flying sensors to support farmers in Mozambique with their decision making in farm and crop management. In Mozambique, we have transferred our technical skills to local ThirdEye operators over the past 3 years. We currently have 6 active local operators providing service to more than 3,500 farmers over more than 1,600 ha. 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, helping them improve their water productivity. Furthermore, they now have the capacity to deal with technical issues and are very skilled in providing advice to farmers. As a result, the farmer’s water productivity was increased by 55%, meaning less water is used to achieve the same crop yield as without ThirdEye services. ThirdEye has evolved since 2014 from a start-up to becoming the leading company in Mozambique in the field of mapping and monitoring services for farmers based on aerial images, which will continue to expand its activities over the coming years.
Since last year, the ThirdEye service is also implemented in Kenya as part of the Smart Water for Agriculture program implemented by SNV. Last month the first round of training was given to 5 operators, who will be serving at least 2,000 smallholder farmers the coming months. Training consists of flying sensor use, technical skills, safety and protocols, imagery processing and consultancy. After this, the operators will start working regularly in the regions of Meru and Nakuru. Here they will go the farmer’s fields, conduct flying sensors flights, process the images and give advice on improving their agricultural practices. Next to the service for smallholder farmers, ThirdEye delivers various services to medium and big sized farmers.