FutureWater releases new study on monitoring Water Productivity

Water Productivity, expressed as the amount of crop yield over the amount of water consumed (kg/m3), has been accepted as the standard to monitor sustainable water management. FutureWater has evaluated various methods, including satellites and Flying Sensors (drones) to monitor Water Productivity for a demonstration project ThirdEye in southern Mozambique.

Monitoring Water Productivity is set as a target for Sustainable Development Goal 6 (“ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”). This new report summaries a demonstration case for the ThirdEye area in southern Mozambique on methods to monitor Water Productivity.

Four different methods (WaPOR, MODIS, Landsat, Flying Sensors) were compared at sub-project level (700 ha) and field level (0.15 ha). Results show that farmers receiving ThirdEye services, based on Flying Sensors (drones), achieve higher Water Productivity compared to farmers not receiving services.

The demonstration study concludes that the four methods to monitor Water Productivity has all advantageous and disadvantageous. Depending on the objective of the monitoring the appropriate method can be selected.

The report can be downloaded here.

MSc thesis research on efficient use of water in agriculture: visiting Xai-Xai, Mozambique

Increasing world population, rising food demand, limited water resources. Currently 70% of the fresh water uptakes are already used for irrigation. The need for efficient water use in agriculture is undisputed! The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6.4 is set at the improvement of efficient use in order to reduce water scarcity and maintain food security. Member states like The Netherlands invest in projects that aim at this improvement in arid and semi-arid regions world-wide.

Multiple key actors are involved in this complex global issue. Before getting to the actual field where improvement is to be made, on policy level and in research already we find various perceptions on efficient water use. Water-use efficiency, irrigation efficiency, water productivity, water saving. What indicator represents the issue accurately? What is the physical meaning of the various terms that are being used? How are the different existing perceptions quantified at the agricultural field? What strategies would obtain the desired result?

Charlotte van der Leer-Groen is working on this topic for her MSc thesis Water Management at Delft University of Technology. She expects that present perceptions on improvement of efficient water use in agriculture can result in differences and even conflicting applications at field level. She uses the hydrological Soil-Water-Atmosphere-Plant model (SWAP) to apply different scenarios for improvement at the field and to evaluate all possible indicators from the generated output.

Charlotte van der Leer-Groen in the field in Mozambique.

One of the cases simulated in SWAP for this analysis is the maize cultivation by smallholders near Xai-Xai where the ThirdEye project is carried out. FutureWater supported Charlotte in May 2017 during her visit to the area. She conducted field measurements to collect data for the simulation. Another purpose of the visit was to understand the current situation and investigate the perceptions of local key actors. A group discussion with farmers was organized and multiple personal interviews were conducted with government officials, farmers and other local experts both in Xai-Xai and Maputo. Among local actors different perceptions on efficient water use appeared but a need for improvement was expressed unanimously.

Where the conflicting result of different perceptions can be intuitive, the simulation with SWAP also allows a quantification of these differences. This research is an important contribution to the discussion on efficient water use. Improvement of efficient water use can be discussed in general terms but the aimed improvement ultimately takes place at the field and will be a challenge in the coming decades.

Field visit on monitoring water productivity in Quelimane, Mozambique

To follow up a good practical example of a our Masterclass on Water Productivity, our colleague Nadja den Besten went on a mission to Quelimane in Mozambique. FutureWater was invited to assess project APROVALE, Água Produtiva no Vale do Zambeze, in the Zambezi Valley. The project is led by Agencia de Desenvolvimento do Vale do Zambeze (ADVZ), which is a governmental organization linking commercial and public initiatives to primarily promote agricultural sustainable growth.

The Zambezi river basin.

Zambezia is a very important agricultural province in Mozambique, besides Maputo province, the most populous as well. In the last decades the agricultural productivity did not increase in Zambezia. The majority of the increase in agricultural output was due to an increase in agricultural area. In order to sustain coming generations and resources, water productivity plays a key role in improving current agricultural practices. Project APROVALE therefore challenges a few different areas, spread all over the Zambezi Valley, to improve their practices by simple interventions. Think of sprinklers, furrows, proper land-levelling etc. In all of these so-called “water productivity” areas, the project wants to keep track of the water use to in the end calculate how much drop per crop is used. To in the end showcase the best practices to other farmers.

Though it sounds easy, it is not so straightforward to keep track of your water use in a lot of different areas with limited monitoring resources. Therefore, FutureWater was asked to assess collaboration opportunities to work together on monitoring the evapotranspiration in different areas of their project, as well as implementing ThirdEye in their agricultural practices. The short field visit showed how remote sensing can be key in visualizing the project and calculating the impact of interventions. FutureWater is looking forward to further collaboration!

A4Lab deploys FutureWater’s drone technique to explore water potential of dry river beds in Mozambique

Text adopted from Dutchwatersector.com

Research group A4Lab deployed a drone of FutureWater’s Mozambican ThirdEye project, to assess the water availability in the dry river beds of the Limpopo river, near the city of Chókwè in Moazambique.

The exploration is to deliver more data on the amounts of water in the sandy river beds throughout the dry season with the potential for intensifying irrigated agriculture.

The aerial exploration was carried out by the A4Lab Mozambique partners, including local authorities of Quijá District, the NGOs Oxfam Mozambique, ADCR and Kulima, the Institute Superior Politécnica de Gaza – together with Tibor Stigter and Pieter van der Zaag of IHE Delft, The Netherlands.

Underutilised water resources

One of the drones operated by ThirdEye for the collection of aerial images and data for some 4,000 small farmers near Xai-Xai and Chókwè, Mozambique.

One key to unlocking Sub-Sahara Africa’s agricultural potential is enhancing water security by means of increased capacity to store water.
The river beds of seasonal rivers provide such opportunities. The numerous seasonal rivers and streams in these areas form a natural buffer when water infiltrates in alluvial river channels and adjacent river banks during the rainy season.

Communities use the water during the dry season by scoop holes, hand pumps, dug wells or other simple abstraction means. These aquifers have a distributed storage potential that is currently under-utilised.

Water storage in these rivers is mostly unmanaged.

Three living labs

Many African rivers run dry but there is a big potential to store more water by building small masonry (sand) dams.

As these alluvial aquifers are not yet recognized as an opportunity for local farming, the research programme Arid African Alluvial Aquifers Labs Securing Water for Development (A4 Labs) was launched last year.

The programme aims to develop new methods for farmers to use water underlying dry river beds and use shallow groundwater more efficiently and sustainable.

Three experimental sites – living labs – have been established for smallholder farmers, practitioners, agricultural extension officers, water engineers, private sector and students, to develop such new methods.

The A4lab sites are situated in three arid to semi-arid regions in Africa:
● Tekeze, Tigray region, Ethiopia, Nile basin
● Mzingwane, Mtabeleland, Zimbabwe, Limpopo basin
● Limpopo, Gaza Province, Mozambique

More crop per drop

One of the research topics is to better understand the functioning of the hydrological system. For a sustainable use it is essential to measure water levels and rainfall on a continuous basis.

The field labs have initiated to collection of such data that will be sent through a telemetric system, so that it can be showed live online.

ThirdEye featured in USAID Water Report

SWFF Innovators FutureWater was featured in USAID’s recently published Safeguarding the World’s Water: Report of Water Sector Activities, which details the Agency’s investments and efforts in WASH and nutrition, agricultural water management, sustainability of WASH services; sanitation; and water quality.

This report describes a wide range of programs consistent with USAID’s Water and Development strategy’s focus on maintaining human health and growing food through water. It is organized by region and shares Fiscal Year 2015 achievements and investments as well as illustrative examples of country-specific programs related to these key issues and other Agency priorities.

The report focuses on USAID’s water-related investments and programming (more than $499,995,179 in FY 2015) that support a more water-secure world, improve health outcomes through the provision of sustainable drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); and manage water for agriculture sustainably and more productively to enhance food security – key objectives of USAID’s Water and Development Strategy (2013-2018).

Innovative technology for the water sector

From August 29 to September 4 the International Trade Fair FACIM took place in Maputo, Mozambique. On this fair the Dutch Embassy organized a Holland pavilion where several Dutch organisations presented themselves to the Mozambican market. On Wednesday August 31 this pavilion was market by the FACIM WATER EVENT ‘The adaptation of innovative technologies in the Mozambican water sector’.

The Third Eye project is featured on the cover of the booklet with innovative technologies for the water sector in Mozambique.

NWP (Netherlands Water Partnership) promoted the Dutch water sector by means of a booklet with Dutch innovative technologies for the Mozambican water sector. This booklet, which was also handed over to Dutch ambassador Pascalle Grotenhuis, was distributed during the water seminar and was received with great enthusiasm.

One of the featured technologies was the ThirdEye project, a project by FutureWater where smallholder farmers’ fields are mapped with a unique network of Flying Sensor (drone) operators in Mozambique. So far FutureWater, together with HiView, trained 14 local drone operators, of which 8 are working on a daily basis by flying, processing the images and giving advice to farmers. Our service is provided to more than 4,000 small-scale farmers, in 2 areas in Mozambique, Xai-Xai and Chókwè, with a total area of more than 1,600 ha.

Our goal by the end of 2017 is to have 20 operators employed, give service to more than 8,000 small-scale and 2 commercial farmers and have a support unit in place in Mozambique.

Identifying and designing business models

How to be a commercial business, and at the same time reach out to the rural poor and enable them to increase their food production and improve their livelihoods? The key ingredient for success is getting the right business model! Agricultural Business Developer Jelle van den Akker investigated the transition of the ThirdEye project from a donor funded programme to a profitable company.

The ThirdEye project is providing crop health information with the use of Flying Sensors in Mozambique. A Flying Sensor is a drone with a high-resolution near-infrared camera that can detect crop stress. This information is key to enabling an increase and efficiency in food production. The information supports farmer’s decision making regarding the use of their (limited) resources (seed, water, fertilizer, pesticides, human power). The use of Flying Sensors for precision agriculture and crop management is exploding across the world. Flying Sensors and other high-tech services supporting precision agriculture are considered the key to the future of agriculture. It is widely recognised that these technologies can play an important role in food security globally while reducing stress on the environment.

The execution of the ThirdEye project is now halfway. The project has shown promising results, Flying Sensors advice benefited approximately 2,500 households and conducted flyovers on 1000 hectares of land. The ThirdEye project is unique as it is a first trial in a developing country to supply information on a regular base to smallholder farmers using Flying Sensors. This brings along challenges in contextualising the concept in a business environment.

For this research a total of 25 interviews with farmers, the public sector, the private agro sector and development agencies, have led to the design of 11 business models. It can be concluded that the business models which have more emphasis on serving smallholder farmers generate lower revenue then models which also provide additional services to other customers, such as: land use surveying, infrastructure monitoring , digital elevation model, yield indication and topographical surveys. The new business models afford opportunity in terms of smallholder farmer inclusion and do not exclude commercial farmers, or other customers. This will also spread risk. There will always remain a trade-off between financial gain and smallholder inclusion. The models support the transition from a donor funded programme to a profitable company. When depending on funding for services to smallholder farmers the scale will be limited by funds and donor decisions. When a business model generates profit without high partner dependence, it can grow, evolve, and adapt in new markets.

Visualisation of a potential business model.
Visualisation of a potential business model.

Business models with an inclusive smallholder focus are (potentially) rather complex. It is advised that: When establishing the identified models ThirdEye should guard not to oversimplify the model. It is believed that any model involving smallholder farmers should aim at also linking the farmer to other services such as agronomic advice, inputs, finance, knowledge and markets. This means strengthening existing services to smallholder farmers instead of trying to be an individual service.

This research aims to provide a good basis for further discussions, decision-making, and ultimately establishment of a sustainable company. Each identified business model can be regarded as a series of interlocking, sometimes changing, pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. This research provides the start of the puzzle but to fit the pieces together more market research, a design of an operational plan and validation is needed. This in-depth research will be done by SNV Mozambique in the coming months.

Training new Flying Sensor operators

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.

In 2014 FutureWater/HiView was granted a prestigious development grant from USAID to develop Flying Sensor business operations in Mozambique: the ThirdEye project. This unique project aims at supporting farmers in Mozambique by setting up a network of Flying Sensors operators. These operators are equipped with Flying Sensors and tools to analyse the obtained imagery. Flying Sensors have been proven to provide useful information in supporting farmers. However, this project is unique as it is a first trial in a developing country to supply information on a regular base using Flying Sensors.

During the first year of the project 4 Flying Sensors, which are all used on a daily basis, have been supplied and 9 Flying Sensor Operators have been trained and obtained their license. Over the last weeks a new training round has several new Flying Sensor operators have been trained in Mozambique.

In the field in Chòkwé
In the field in Chòkwé

ThirdEye now has a team of operators and experts based in Chòkwé and Xai-Xai. At the end of the project (2017) we foresee that 8000 farmers will use our services, farmers’ yield will be increased by at least 10%, and farmers have improved their irrigation practices.

Processing the images
Processing the images

Expanding the Third Eye project

The Third Eye project has been operational now for a few months in the regadios, irrigation schemes of Chokwe (HICEP) and Xai Xai (RBL). During the past weeks our field officer, Jan van Til, was in Mozambique to monitor the project progress and to acquire new partnership and collaborations.

Flying sensor operations in Chokwé.
Distributor of fertilizers: Green Belt Fertilisantes.

Jan visited 4 flying sensor operators to reflect on their flights, data processing operations and overall project management. Furthermore, the way in which smallholder farmers are advised regarding their irrigation practices in the mashambas (crop fields) was discussed thouroughly. Discussions with the operators, two of them being xtention service providers, is helpful in determining the right strategy to get in touch with farmers and expand the project in these areas.

At a higher level there were several meetings with managers and CEOs of the irrigation schemes. Moreover, much progression was made in finding new partners in Beira, 1000 km north of Maputo. As a result of this, the Third Eye project is now connected to a big distributor of fertilizers: Green Belt Fertilisantes.

Apart from that there is a promising perspective on elaborating the ThirdEye program in the sugarmill plantation of Tongaat Hulett in Mafambisse, 40 km inland from Beira. Tongaat Hulett is very positive on conducting monitoring surveys above their sugarcane fields. Also, there is a big opportunity to work with small outcropper farmers in this area as well.

This week will mainly be dedicated by field visits of our TA supplier SNV, who will help us to develop a suitable business model, tailored upon the practice of farming in the specific context of the regadios.

Training for ARA-Centro.

New images from Xai Xai

The past months HiView continued working on the USAID project in Mozambique. The project -called ThirdEye- aims at supplying smallholder farmers with information concerning drought and crop stress derived from our Flying Sensors. For this reason, several Mozambican operators in the irrigation regions of Xai Xai and Chokwe were trained to operate the Flying Sensors. The trainings contained operational flights with the Flying Sensors and analysis of the NIR images. Moreover, the operators were instructed to convey tailored information to the farmers and farmer organizations. The ThirdEye project will last 3 years resulting in the development of self-sustaining companies that offer farming information services based on aerial imaging.

These 2 images were recently obtained from the Nhamponzoene area in Xai Xai. The normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) is a graphical indicator that can be used to analyze remote sensing measurements and assess whether the target being observed contains live green vegetation or not.

Mosaic image from the Nhamponzoene area in Xai Xai.
NDVI image from the Nhamponzoene area in Xai Xai.

Training operators in Xai Xai and Chokwe

HiView has continued the work on ThirdEye by training Mozambican operators in the irrigation regions of Xai Xai and Chokwe. The trainings contain operational flights with the Flying Sensors and analysis of the NIR images. Finally the operators are instructed to convey tailored information to the farmers and farmer organizations.

Hands-on training of flight operators in Chokwe
Example subset of false color data gathered by the operators
Example subset of NDVI data calculated by the operators to examine vegetation condition and stresses
certificate chokwe
Operators in Chokwe receive their certificate from Jan
Operator in Xai Xai receives his certificate

Flight operator kits made

“Sensy” kits that hold the required tools for successful flight operation have been put together. They contain a Flying Sensor, accessories, spare parts, manuals, mini laptop, camera and more.

The Flying Sensor that has been chosen for the job is a modified DJI Phantom. Its camera has been replaced by a custom near-infrared camera that is tailored to agricultural applications as it can measure vegetation condition and stresses. Other accessories have been added that support this functionality.

An overview of the sensy kit used in the ThirdEye project