AfriCultuReS is a European H2020 project
Overview of experiences with digitalisation for agriculture: an update of the AfriCultuReS marketing toolkit and reference list
New are the examples with AfriCultuReS use cases and an overview of the services from the sister-project TWIGA (https://website.twiga-h2020.eu/).
Recent additions to the reference list are indicated in red font. All links to the literature have been checked (October 14, 2021).
In future versions the focus will be on the AfriCultuReS and TWIGA priorities: crop monitoring, weather forecasting, sowing and planting advice, water use and irrigation advice, soil moisture, flood risk assessment and early warning, drought risk assessment and monitoring, high-impact weather early warning, index insurance, water resources assessment, climate change, pasture and water bodies identification and monitoring, land degradation, land use change monitoring and solar energy.
Toolkit click on the picture
Literature reference list click (new references in red)
Water bodies detection in South Africa
Accurate assessment of available water resources is vital for humans and the environment. Have a look at the latest AfriCultuReS article on improving detection of water bodies in South Africa by Ines Cherif, Georgios Ovakoglou, Thomas Alexandridis, Mahlatse Kganyago and Nosiseko Mashiyi.
Preview of the AfriCultuReS service platform
Here you’ll find a preview of the services that are offered on the AfriCultuReS platform, together with demonstration use cases on cropland management, land use / land cover mapping, surface water bodies monitoring, water consumption monitoring, crop condition monitoring, and flood mapping and monitoring: http://africultures-platform.eu/demonstration-use-cases/.
Make remote sensing data work
How do you make remote sensing data work for diverse small-scale farmers and pastoralists in diverse African contexts?
Here is the latest blog from Brittany Bunce and Maurice Beseng of the Sheffield International Institute for Development.
Presentation on AfriCultuReS flood mapping product at EGU 2021
Cherif, I., Ovakoglou, G., Alexandridis, T. K., Mensah, F., and Garba, I.
Near real time high resolution mapping of flood extent in west African sites,
EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-15170
To the abstract of the presentation
OSS reaches out to AfriCultuReS’ target groups
National and regional governments are interested in creating the conditions for increasing agricultural production and productivity and reducing risk. Earth observation is an excellent tool to support informed decision-making. With this in mind the Sahara and Sahel Observatory (OSS) held a national workshop for presenting the results of the AfriCultuReS project in Tunisia on December 15 and 16.
The workshop was organised in close collaboration with key stakeholders: the National Centre of Mapping and Remote Sensing (CNCT), the National Institute for Research in Rural Engineering, Water and Forests (INRGREF) and the National Agricultural Observatory (ONAGRI). The last institution guarantees the centralization, dissemination and sustainability of the project results and achievements in Tunisia and was the host of the (virtual) meeting.
Mme. Akissa Bahri, the Minister of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries, gave the opening speech followed by a speech of the chair of the workshop, M. Hamed Daly, General Director of ONAGRI.
The presentations of the workshop (see the references below) focussed on strengthening approaches and solutions to support decision making in the agricultural field. They summarise the results of thematic studies on the Tunisian agricultural sector and on the contribution of remote sensing (end-user needs, statistical estimates of the agricultural production, analysis of risks and socio-economic aspects and operational modelling of crop growth and agricultural yield estimates.
Based on this analysis geospatial decision-support tools are developed (10 m spatial resolution land use map of Tunisia, maps of crop types, agricultural model for crop monitoring and yield estimates, and a geospatial platform prototype for monitoring the agricultural sector). To facilitate uptake capacity building and dissemination tools are deployed (training kit on wheat modelling and yield estimate, training workshops, advocacy and infographics).
Alexandridis, T. et al. (2020). Designing AfriCultuReS services to support food security in Africa. Transactions in GIS.
This article explains the principles behind the AfriCultuReS project that aims at improving the food security situation in Africa by developing services that integrate Earth observation with other data sources.
Example of crop condition maps computed for the Jendouba test area in Tunisia
Left: historical max of NDVI
Centre: Historical min of NDVI
Right: VCI computed for day 23 July 2019
Note: white area refers to cloudy pixels
1st Virtual Practitioners Conference
on Desert Locust Management 2020 (August 10)
Locust outbreaks in 2019-20 in East Africa and West Asia have been the worst in decades. They have already wiped out massive amounts of crops, vast swathes of pasture. The sheer size of swarms and the sheer amount of food they devour within a matter of hours is triggering hunger crises—from Kenya and Ethiopia to Pakistan and India, and even Argentina most recently. In East Africa alone, 19 million are at risk of a much bigger crisis if the infestation continues unabated.
The 1st Virtual Practitioners Conference on Desert Locust Management 2020 (August 10), hosted by TheWaterChannel and supported by a number of partner organisations, will bring together professionals working at the frontline of the locust crisis across the world. They will present and discuss the nature of the problem as experienced at global and local levels, and the most promising solutions going forward.
To go to the recordings of the various sessions click on the picture below
Check out the latest AfriCultuReS publication
“Validation of sentinel-2 leaf area index (LAI) product derived from SNAP toolbox and its comparison with global LAI products in an African semi-arid agricultural landscape” by Mahlatse Kganyago, Paidamwoyo Mhangara,Thomas Alexandridis, Giovanni Laneve, Georgios Ovakoglou & Nosiseko Mashiyi.
Tele-training by OSS
OSS organised a “Tele-training on operational modelling of wheat growth and its yield estimate” within the framework of the AfriCultuReS and GMES-Africa projects in partnership with the CNCT (National Center for Mapping and Remote Sensing) - ONAGRI (National Observatory of Agriculture) and INRGREF (National Institute for Research in Rural Engineering, Water and Forests), from 20 to 22 April 2020.
Fourth progress meeting
The fourth AfriCultuReS project meeting was held in Kigali, Rwanda on November 21 and 22, 2019, in conjunction with the AfricaGIS conference. Maize, wheat, potatoes and sorghum were selected as number one priority crops, while cassava, millet, rice and sugarcane where indicated as second priority crops. In addition to these crops, grasslands will be added for livestock and rangeland management.
Other topics for discussion were the AfriCultuReS methodology, the combination of satellite and in situ data, validation and calibration, data fusion and services federation, the AfriCultuReS IT platform, the business model and capacity development.
Third project meeting
The project partners met in Thessaloniki, Greece, on May 20 and 21 to discuss future plans. Seven main service categories were identified:
Although it is already complicated to develop these services technically, bringing solutions to the market takes even more time: needing a period of ten years to do this is not uncommon. That’s why the AfriCultuReS partners started the discussion of teaming up with potential clients right away. If solutions are created not only for, but also with clients, market readiness can be achieved quicker and more easily.
Developing services for and with regional governments, such as county, provincial or district governments is an interesting option. Fulfilling the agricultural potential is a priority for local government and by improving the analysis and prediction of potential yields and monitoring of actual yields, useful intelligence for improving agricultural policy can be delivered.
The private sector is another good partner. Working with input suppliers, buyers, sellers and the processing industry can lead to an interesting bundling of services that benefit farmers and that are economically feasible. With financial institutions products can be developed that reduce the risks of providing (micro-)credit, possibly coupled with the delivery of index insurance products that are based on satellite information.
What will happen next? First the technical solutions will have to be worked out more in detail and tailored to the needs of each local context. To do that pilots will be carried out in Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique, South Africa, Ghana, Niger, Tunisia and Ethiopia. Although a lot of information can be derived from satellites, gathering information on the ground for validation and calibration is indispensable.
In parallel a chain of workshops will be organised in these countries to engage with partners and to finetune the users’ needs assessment.
Second project meeting
The AfriCultuReS project held its second progress meeting in November 2018 in Pretoria, South Africa, organised by SANSA. The meeting focused on the analysis of user needs that were identified in the regional stakeholder requirement workshops and how to match these with technical solutions based on satellite information to achieve maximum impact for food security.
First project meeting
The AfriCultuReS project held its first project meeting at the premises of the coordinator, GMV, near Madrid, Spain, on April 19 and 20. Apart from progress during the first six months of the project and technical aspects, the discussions focussed on cross-cutting issues, such as climate change, user needs and gender. Now it is time to start the development of solutions that contribute to food security for the eight project regions in Africa, which will be tested first in the form of pilot projects. We will keep you posted on developments!
AfriCultuReS has started!
The kick-off meeting was held in Addis Ababa on November 23 and 24, 2017, organized jointly by GMV, the project coordinator, and GeoSAS, the host.
There were opening speeches of His Excellency Dr. Seleshi Bekele, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Electricity of Ethiopia, Dr. Franz Immler, Head of the sector Climate Action of the Executive Agency for SMEs of the European Commission, and Dr. Tidiane Outtara, Head of the GMES & Africa Support Programme Unit of the African Union.
Supporting farmers in Africa with European Earth Observation technology
GMES and AFRICA participates in AfriCultuReS H2020 kick-off meeting
Dr. Seleshi Bekele
The Honourable Minister indicated that food security and agriculture are among the most pressing priorities for Africa. Many Ethiopians depend on agriculture and it is the most important economic activity. Agriculture, however, faces a number of challenges: developmental, environmental and disasters, such as drought and erratic rainfall. A concerted effort of all stakeholders is needed to successfully achieve sustainable agricultural development.
Reliable information is needed for any development and the emergence of GIS (geographic information systems) and remote sensing supports the delivery of this type of information. However, in Ethiopia the Information is not ready for decision-making yet. There still is a lack of available high-resolution satellite imagery, a lack of infrastructure and a lack of capacity, skills and knowledge. Support is needed in the areas of watershed management, river basin management, groundwater resources assessment, risk mapping, irrigation mapping, spatial analysis of human settlements, water supply and electricity.
The project AfriCultuReS can help address this issue. The support of the European Union to this project reflects the consistent European commitment to the development of Africa. Through this collaboration and cooperation with the public sector, the private sector and knowledge institutions better information provision that benefits decision-making for good governance in Africa can be achieved.
Opening by Dr. Franz Immler
Dr. Franz Immler opened the AfriCultuReS project on behalf of EASME and DG RTD Earth observation section
(Directorate-General for Research and Innovation).
He highlighted the main elements of the H2020 programme (the Research and Innovation programme of the European Union that runs from 2014 to 2020), with its three pillars of excellent science, industrial leadership and societal challenges, and the division of responsibilities with respect to supervision and support of implementation.
The societal challenges (SCs) number 2 “Food security” and number five “Climate action” are especially relevant for AfriCultuReS. AfriCultuReS is funded by SC5, but put into the SC2 programme to emphasize the cross-cutting character of the project. Earth observation is, of course, just one of the components of SC5.
Other important aspects are the link with GEO (Group on Earth observations), in particular with GEOGLAM (GEO’s global agricultural monitoring flagship initiative) and, of course, GEOSS (the global Earth observation system of systems), and EuroGEOSS (see also the item on the launch of EuroGEOSS in October [link]) and AfriGEOSS, which are the regional coordination initiatives of GEO in Europe and Africa, respectively. In addition, there is a strong connection with the Copernicus programme and the associated services through EuroGEOSS and the cooperation with GMES & Africa. Examples of relevant European projects are NextGEOSS, on creation of a European datahub, and TWIGA, on extension of networks for in-situ observations in Africa and development of new sensors. EASME will support the creation of synergies through the organization of events, such as the European GEO (EuroGEOSS) workshop.
AfriCultuReS is expected to deliver improved projections of food supply, to contribute to more informed decision-making that leads toiImproved food security and to be a building block for the EU – Africa partnership and GEO. It is important that the project produces results that are really used, taking into account gender and climate aspects.
The importance of food security
Dr. Ouattara outlined the importance of food security for Africa. The AfriCultuReS project is therefore very relevant.
The approach of AfriCultuReS is innovative, by involving the end-users and stakeholders. In the past 20 years the Earth observation community has worked too much in isolation.
The European Union – Africa (European Commission –African Union Commission) collaboration is taking another dimension that emphasizes this involvement of stakeholders. The GMES & Africa (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, the old name for Copernicus) programme is an example. Several innovations have been introduced, although the programme also benefits from the results and experiences of its predecessors AMESD (African Monitoring of the Environment for Sustainable Development) and MESA (Monitoring the Environment for Security in Africa). The programme combines a top-down and bottom-up approach at continental, regional and national level.
The new programme covers the whole of Africa. The implementation of the programme takes place through consortia that consist of African institutions (at least five from five different countries). At least one institution from academia should be a member of the consortium (receiving at least 10% of the grant for the training component that includes graduate education and online, classroom and on-the-job training.
Strengthening the African private sector (as indicated in Agenda 2063), including space and geospatial companies, is also a priority. 20% of the grant should be contracted out to the private sector. The African private sector is encouraged to partner with the European private sector and vice versa.
Agriculture falls currently under the natural resources and water service that is one of the components of GMES & Africa. AfriCultuReS is expected to support GMES & Africa, in particular in the second phase, where food security is specifically targeted. The AfriCultuReS partners should therefore think about the future and the impact of the project. AfriCultuReS does very important work of which very good results are expected. The project is very relevant for both H2020 and Africa and the AUC is very pleased to provide support to and cooperate with AfriCultuReS.
AfriCultuReS contributes to SDG 2 Zero Hunger
This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No. 774652
Embedding Earth observation initiatives in localised contexts for financial sustainability – involving smallholder food producers and local governments
These are the main takeaways from the panel discussion of the GEO week side-event organised by the Geodata for Agriculture and Water Facility (G4AW – Netherlands Space Office), and the AfriCultuReS and TWIGA Horizon2020 projects, with presentations from Frank Annor, Lilian Benzid, Akua Benewaa and Mango Mbambi :
- Co-design: involve key partners from the start;
- Make use of rural entrepreneurship;
- As we deal with data driven-solutions, use local service
- The best strategy for scaling depends very much on the
type of service offered;
- Licence-to-operate and (often) commitment from the
government is essential;
- Make use of reliable local actors and/or integrators for
local embedding (e.g. TAHMO with weather stations
- Show impact of Earth observation and data-driven
solutions (cost-saving, time saving, improved
- Develop standard products / services that can be easily
replicated in other countries / regions (and make use of
a common platform).
The right to water and food:
digitalisation, informed decision-making, empowerment,
inclusiveness & the rights-based approach
An important advantage of digitalisation and remote sensing in particular is that it facilitates informed decision-making, can serve as an instrument for empowerment (increased transparency) and supports inclusiveness. But how is this put into practice and take existing power relations into account?
Especially in the context of tackling poverty many factors play a role and often there are conflicts of interests (just look at history in general). In many cases investments of some sort are needed and politicians and administrators are very good at saying “we’ll look into it” very eloquently, which frequently leads to (indefinite) postponement.
An example from my own experience: As a young engineer I was involved in a protest march of indigenous people to the capital city claiming their right to drinkable water. As the recently elected president profiled himself as the president-of-the-poor there was no nice way to keep people out and the office of the vice-minister filled rapidly with poncho-clad representatives of the community. After a vivid discussion the vice-minister said that it was a complicated matter that needed more study. I intervened that we already had a technical design and substantial funding and that the only thing we needed from the government was about 20km of second-hand (note: not second-rate) steel tubes to cross a deep valley (which we knew the government had in store). Fortunately all this was already discussed with the technical people from the national water agency. Within five years the system was completed.
What did I learn from this?
What did I learn from this?
1 A certain level of political will is required.
2 The community / communities concerned need to be united behind the cause.
3 The solution needs to be clear, technologically feasible and financially affordable.
For a long time I did not come across practical literature on this topic. But when doing a study on digitalisation for the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs I interviewed people from WWF and IUCN on an initiative called Shared Resources, Joint Solutions. They produced a small handbook on influencing. It has now disappeared from their website, although they have a lot of documents with examples of the rights-based approach. Therefore I present the main steps for action from the handbook here:
Ten steps to develop an effective influencing strategy:
1 Who are you? (Creating a manifesto of legitimacy, which should determine whether, or not, power holders will listen to your
arguments and respect your interests on the issue. This can be based on e.g. mass mobilisation, expert knowledge or
2 What is the problem?
3 What policy has to change to solve the problem?
4 Who is the power holder of the policy change?
5 Where in the decision-making process are we?
6 Who are your friends (and not)? (stakeholder (power) mapping)
7 What is your strategy to influence?
8 Make an activity plan.
9 Just do it! And monitor and learn from it.
10 Be flexible! Adjust your strategy to new developments.
This leads to nine assignments to develop your influencing strategy:
* Who am I? Assignment #1: Write or draw a manifesto.
* What is the problem of the powerless? Assignment #2: Formulate or draw the problem.
* What policy has to change to solve the problem? Assignment #3: Formulate or draw the policy change.
* Who is the power holder of the policy change? Assignment #4: Make a profile of the power holder.
* Where in the decision making process are we? Assignment #5: Make a timeline of all the decisions leading up
to the policy change.
* Who are your friends (and not)? Assignment #6: Build a partnership with allies.
* What is my strategy to influence? Assignment #7: Work out an influencing strategy document.
* Make an Activity Plan? Assignment #8: Make an activity plan and timeline.
* Do it! And monitor and learn from it! Assignment #9: Do a reality check on the resources.
Indeed this is a recipe for lobbying, but the power dimensions that always play a role are addressed and there is a nice fit with the example I mentioned. We aim to take these lessons to heart in the development of services in the AfriCultuReS (http://www.africultures.eu) and TWIGA H2020 projects.
Digital building blocks to go beyond pilots for food security
Most geodata applications for food security are still in the pilot stage. Geodata specialists tend to look to general digitalisation initiatives for inspiration. The idea is to learn from them as they started earlier and are supposedly more advanced. Is this true? Apparently not, if you look at the latest World Bank report on digital transformation of the agrifood system.
The report stresses the importance of reducing high transaction costs and information asymmetries and I like the distinction between on-farm and off-farm digital technologies and the emphasis on environmental sustainability. But if you want to know about the way forward, the focus is very much on the “what” and not on the “how”. It’s not that it isn’t a good report, it is just that I expected more. Evidently not only geodata applications, but also digitalisation initiatives in general still face many challenges.
Similarly, the demand for the creation of a new, digital ecosystem is accompanied by a plea for investment, but then the reader is left in the dark on how this will be achieved in developing countries. Granted, this is a very difficult issue, but I would have expected more insight, especially if you look at the positive picture that earlier reports sketch.
Which reports are these? I mention a few:
Key World Bank reports, one with the AfDB and the AU from 2014 on the transformational use of ICT in Africa and the esourcebook on ICT in Agriculture from 2017 give examples and indicate possible gains from digitalisation. This is why you would expect (or hope for) a structural embedding of digital solutions by 2021, but for many of the case studies it is difficult to find information on the current state-of-affairs and, assuming that successes will get publicity, this is disappointing.
Maybe I am just too impatient. Examples presented in more recent reports are easier to trace. Have a look at the Dalberg/CTA report on the digitalisation of agriculture, the GSMA agritech toolkit or the digital agriculture map GSMA 2020.
In summary, a comprehensive ecosystem for digitalisation in agriculture in developing countries seems still a long way off. For the “how” we have to go back to our pilots again (such as those of G4AW and NpM, now part of the Netherlands Advisory Board (NAB), and those presented in the reports above) and take it from there. Incremental, organic growth and system of systems approaches (such as GEOSS) can be effective.
The message to projects like AfriCultuReS and TWIGA and others is: focus on compatible and replicable building blocks that could fit in such an approach. These could then be used for a combination of applications in agriculture, climate adaptation and environmental sustainability.
|30/09||Forecasting science for extreme weather & climate resilience
|21 - 23/09||GEO Climate policy and finance workshop
|20 - 23/09||EuroGEO workshop
|20 - 22/09||GMES & Africa Regional workshop
|31/08||Space, climate change and international cooperation
(Secure World Foundation)
|23 - 26/08||AmeriGEO
|17 - 19/08||RCMRD international conference
|29/07||A resilient food future: scaling digital climate advisory services
for impact (WRI)
|28/07||Southern Africa food security outlook briefing (FEWS NET)
|22/07||Global risk financing technical talk: influence
with technical stories (GRiF)
|11 - 16/07||IGARSS
|08/07||Establishing a baseline water risk assessment model
in Ethiopia (WRI)
|07/07||GrowAsia directory showcase
|29/06||GEO private sector meeting
|21 - 24/06||GEO symposium
|17/06||Scaling satellite-observed soil moisture index insurance
in Africa (World Bank)
|16 - 17/06||ExpandEO Fire forum, including
Transforming Europe’s food system (EARSC)
|14/06||ESA-EU SATCEN workshop on climate security
|10/06||Africa-Europe space Earth observation high-level forum
|07 - 08/06||African climate monitoring from space (EUMETSAT)
|03/06||Soil information system for food security and sustainable intensification in Africa (FARA)
|26/05||Agri-data research and innovation partnership (EC)
|25/05||Harnessing the power of big data
in cutting edge innovation
(International Bioeconomy Forum)
|18 - 20/05||Big data from space (ESA)
|05/05||Space for water resources (Groundstation Space)
|28 - 29/04||From best practices to practice –
Earth observation for agro-insurance (ESA)
|28/04||GEOGLoWS steering committee meeting
|20/04||Research to innovation: Solutions to the climate crisis
in Africa (University of Leeds, CGIAR, CCAFS)
|19 - 30/04||EGU General Assembly 2021
|14/04||GEO meeting agriculture & land
|13/04||Satellietdata en AI voor aarde
|31/03||The role of satellite data and analytics in predicting
the agricultural commodity chain and price trends (SpiceUp)
|30/03||Evapotranspiration: Pitfalls to avoid and
why it’s easier than you think (METER, Campbell)
|30/03||IFAD Virtual Mission – Geodata for agtech and fintech
(NpM Platform for Inclusive Finance and Netherlands Space Office)
|29/03||WaPOR NICC web table talk
|22/03||OECD toolkit for water policies & governance
|18/03||Data intensive smart agrifood chains (DISAC)
|15/03||Influence of COVID-19 on global agricultural insurance industry (AgroInsurance)
|09 - 10/03||Copernicus and the Common Agricultural Policy
|09/03||The future of farming: With satellite imagery, weather data,
& deep learning (UP42)
|04 - 05/03||Sen4CAP final workshop
|26/02||Digital information to tackle climate change and transform food systems (FAO)
|24/02||Introduction to the GEO knowledge hub (GEO)
|24/02||Voices of Africa (AGRA)
|12/02||Use of remote sensing data in agtech (6th grain)
|28/01||Roundtable on financing agricultural water (OECD-FAO)
|28/01||Farming from space: Digital innovation for agriculture
|21/01||Remote sensing and privacy (CAPIGI)
|13 - 18/01||Climate-resilient food systems for Africa:
From evidence to action (CGIAR, CCAFS)
Geodata for AGTECH and FINTECH
There is quite some interest in geodata applications for inclusive finance for smallholder farmers. The idea is that financial institutions can make their operations more effective and more efficient. Geodata companies are looking for a combination of new markets and solving societal problems.
Applications are credit scoring, assessment of repayment rate and time, geo-location of farms and plots, agricultural advice and risk management. The Platform for Inclusive Finance (NpM) and the Geodata for Agriculture and Water Facility (G4AW) funded a number of pilots.
The results of the pilots are very promising. However, there are a number of considerations to take into account:
Challenges encountered in the implementation of geodata applications were:
Two factors are especially important from an investor’s perspective:
The following technical, organisational and cross-cutting factors play a role in future developments:
Space-based services for smallholders: what have we learned?
The Geodata for Agriculture and Water Facility (G4AW) provided co-financing grants to 25 projects in Africa and Asia (23 targeted smallholder farmers and 2 targeted pastoralists). Each project’s objective within this Facility was to reach 100,000 farmers (or 50,000 pastoralists) and create a sustainable business model. The satellite-based services that were part of the portfolio offered were: weather information and forecasts, good agricultural practices, crop management and (index) insurance. For pastoralists information on (good quality) water and pasture was provided.
What have we learned? Some key findings:
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating successful digital agriculture advisory services. A key factor is how partnerships develop and adopt the right business model for service uptake. The presence of a large agro-business, insurer, bank or telecom company in the partnership creates favourable conditions for reaching food producers and bundling with other services.
For more info, including the recommendations, go to the publication
Universal and inclusive access to geospatial information for increased production and productivity
in agriculture and water
There is a lot of attention for digitalisation for rural development (see for example the IT4D publication), however the sustainable increase of production and productivity in agriculture and water with the help of digitalisation has not reached scale yet. The current wisdom is that this is most likely, because most farmers in developing countries are smallholders, notoriously difficult to reach. Is this true? We’ll have a look.
But first a few starting remarks, going back to the title of this blog. Universal and inclusive access to geospatial information does not necessarily mean that this information is free. Inclusive is added, because people should be empowered to act on the information they get. Paradoxically, this strengthens the case for free, or at least affordable, information provision.
Returning to the subject: what makes the concept of digitalisation so attractive? There is a history of creating an enabling environment for digitalisation:
The first initiatives on digitalisation for agriculture were those by MNOs. A lot of these were evaluated in 2015 or 2016, but what happened after? The recently published GSMA AgriTech toolkit gives a good overview of best practices and examples. However, there is little information about value added services related to precision agriculture, only a statement that the business case is not clear (farm information is mostly used as a support measure for other services).This seems to confirm that indeed increasing production and productivity for smallholders is the most difficult part to address of the whole agricultural value chain.
But there are success stories. An example is the Garbal app for pastoralists, developed in the STAMP (Mali) and MODHEM (Burkina Faso) projects, supported by the G4AW Facility that promotes the use of satellite applications. Other G4AW success examples deal with weather (start of rainy season, forecasts, extremes) and/or agronomic advice for high-value crops (vegetables) or crops that cover relatively large areas (rice) and/or index insurance.
Indeed, as the GSMA AgriTech toolkit and a recent GrowAsia study indicate, establishing a sustainable business case for these apps takes quite some time. In addition to that, the technology has to work, the transmission channels need to be appropriate for the target group and data protection and platform ownership need to be arranged (to ensure long-term success, platform costs should be kept as low as possible). In addition, several initiatives indicated that the service provided should consist of information instead of advice, to respect the position and expertise of the farmer / pastoralist as decision maker and often a bundling of services is requested by the target group (to be more effective and to avoid duplication and fragmentation). This makes sense, as increasing production is not very useful, if access to markets is the main limiting factor.
Water management-related apps are maybe easier to market than agricultural apps for smallholders, if one aims at the government as the main client and partner. An example is the use of the HydroNET platform of the company Hydrologic deployed for the Ministry of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development and water boards in South Africa. Usually it helps when these platforms are already developed for and functional in the home market.
This also applies to services that are offered to commercial farmers in developing countries. The € 10 – 13 / ha price (for a minimum of 25 ha) that the company IrriWatch charges for insight and advice on water consumption gives an indication of what to expect.
Other potential market opportunities are services for (local) government to facilitate decision making on food security, such as those developed by the AfriCultuReS project, and services based on the application (new) in situ sensors, such as those developed by the TWIGA project.
When looking at future perspectives, trends, opportunities and challenges, there are four types of providers (overlap is possible and the order does not give any indication of importance of priority) that can be distinguished as potential players in the market of services for agriculture and water:
Regardless of whoever will dominate the market, continuing support is needed to develop solutions that (also) cater to smallholders. Inclusiveness from start to end is a requirement for success, in the form of co-design and decision power for individual farmers and/or farmers’ organisations. Only if this condition is met, the promise of geospatial information of creating opportunities that change the context of doing business for and with smallholders will be fulfilled.
Environmental accounting, on the dashboard or in the trunk?
Fortunately, the attention for environmental accounting and ecosystem accounting is growing. We need more systems for inclusive measurement, monitoring and evaluation.
There are many initiatives:
But they are not used as basis for decision making.
Just to give an example: in the Netherlands there is a great exercise on ecosystem accounting in the province of Limburg, but, as far as I know, this and the more general system of national environmental accounts are not the guiding principle for decision making. When it comes to decision making “traditional” economic arguments prevail. This leads to problems when policy measures for climate change get into conflict with cost-benefit calculations according to the narrow definition. Especially when this has been going on for decades, the consequences are severe. Look for example at the protests of Dutch farmers, who feel they are unfairly treated by the government with measures aimed at reducing the nitrogen surplus.
Of course, one could start a discussion about the metrics used in environmental accounting or ecosystem accounting and their validity. But the same applies to economic calculations, see for example Dan Brockington’s blog on farmers assets in Tanzania.
Why is it so difficult to integrate the two types of accounts? Perhaps because:
My own experience in agriculture is that environmental accounting and ecosystem accounting rank very low on priority lists of what should be addressed: increasing production and productivity and reducing (disaster) risk come first.
However, this does not mean that people do not care about sustainability, climate or environmental issues. It simply means that incentives should be changed and, as part of that process, the concept of environmental and ecosystem accounting should be promoted more.
Certification is certainly a step in the good direction. And an integration with data gathering and data analysis can help (look at reports like “Counting on the world to act”) Two H2020 projects, sponsored by the European Commission and dedicated to the improvement of data provision and analysis for food security, water and climate change in Africa, TWIGA and AfriCultuReS can make a small but important contribution to get environmental and ecosystem accounting from the trunk of the car to the dashboard!
Co-design in times of Corona
One of the few positive points of the Corona-crisis is that it provides an opportunity for reflection. For me this included looking at the design considerations I applied ages ago and the ones we use now. What are the differences and what is still valid?
A lesson from the Corona-outbreak is not to take anything for granted. In developed countries the emphasis is very much on achieving maximum efficiency and effectiveness, in developing countries my design criteria focussed on maximum resilience. That means shifting from looking at “what can go right” to “what can go wrong”.
Nowadays we love to go for the new technical stuff, with buzzwords like big data, disruptive technology, machine learning, etc. In the process, we tend to forget the “what can go wrong”-side of things. Of course we talk of co-design, but in practice this is dealt with as a step in the process and then we go on with the technical things that make us so happy.
The danger is that this creates a mismatch between the “technical solution” and its successful long-term application. Not that there is anything wrong with technology, but things should be kept in perspective.
Home and office of the engineer
Here are some design considerations from a long time ago that still apply, in my opinion, and are maybe forgotten in our desire to hit the ball out of the park. This effect is reinforced by the fact that most innovation funding is project-based and we therefore want to show quick results.
Cost reduction: This applies to the introduction of new technology that improves the current situation (e.g. platforms with services derived from big data), but in such a way that the solution is sustainable. Keeping the costs low, instead of counting on a high revenue – high cost scenario (that maximizes profit), reduces the risk of failure. This focus can even lead to additional design gains, where e.g. earthquake-resistant water tanks and acid groundwater-proof concrete well elements turn out to be cheaper than off-the-shelf solutions.
Anti-fragility: This term, coined by Nassim Taleb in his book Antifragile, deals not only with building in redundancy (look at the problems we have now with getting sufficient Corona-testing kits and intensive care beds and equipment in hospitals), but also with keeping the right purpose in mind. That means that wells should be equipped with buckets instead of handpumps, when you know that remote villages will never get visits from maintenance and repair teams. It also refers to the concept of granularity (thanks, Jack Dangermond of ESRI, for a discussion on this, already a long time ago). Design with granularity in mind reduces the risk that when one element malfunctions the whole system breaks down.
Long-term perspective: We should take the time (that we usually think we do not have) to design for the long-term and really involve the people concerned. They then become the owners of the solution, e.g. indigenous communities that get a “yes-we-can” spirit and go for installation of electricity after the drinking water system is completed. On the other hand, just as adjustments to the Corona-situation takes time for us, acceptance of new solutions also is a process that may take longer than anticipated. E.g. by involving everyone you avoid situations where the location of a planned well is “cursed”, because the local traditional well-diggers were not consulted.
And, of course, we are “human, all too human”: after a while we will forget what this Corona-thing was all about. But still, the crisis gives us a good opportunity to give co-design and innovation a new look.
AfriCultuReS as GEO community activity
AfriCultuReS is accepted as a community activity in the 2020 – 2022 Work Programme of the Group on Earth Observations.
This provides a very good opportunity to stimulate the development of concrete Earth observation-based solutions for food security in Africa through international cooperation.
Ground Truth week 2019
Mark Noort (HCP) participated in the closing panel of the Ground Truth 2.0 week in Delft, the Netherlands on October 4, 2019, and stressed the importance of making use of citizens’ observatories and the methodology developed and lessons learned of Ground Truth 2.0 in the AfriCultuReS project.
User workshop 3rd October
The fourth AfriCultuReS User Workshop of 2019 was organised by LocateIT and held in Nairobi on 3rd October. This workshop brought together representatives from government departments, research institutions and universities, farmers’ organisations, private enterprise and intergovernmental organisations to explore how AfriCultuReS can best meet user needs and build user capacity in Kenya.
Speaking during the opening address, Prof. Hamadi Boga, The State Department for Crop Development and Agriculture Research Principal Secretary, said that the ministry is developing a centralised, digitised information and knowledge portal where agricultural stakeholders can have access to production information on food and nutrition security. He expressed high hopes that AfriCultuReS will be high-quality research that will create data for Kenya.
Participants in the workshop in Kenya once again highlighted the importance of collaboration and integration, particularly given the number of Earth Observation for Sustainable Development (EO4SD) initiatives currently operational in the country. They suggested a need for agility to cope with a rapidly changing context, as the priority problems of today may not be those of tomorrow and lack of flexibility may result in the creation of products which quite quickly become obsolete.
Understanding this evolving context means continually engaging with the diversity of agricultural stakeholders in Kenya and particularly with the diversity of farmers. Users reiterated the need to demystify solutions by simplifying them for the different levels of target users. For instance, disseminating information to pastoralists in Northern Kenya, would require the development of an entirely different communication strategy, potentially one based on existing social and business networks such as those centred around water point managers, elder associations or agrodealerships. Encouraging uptake of EO4SD applications will also involve creating simplified products which elegantly meet the core needs of end-users, and demystifying these products so that end-users fully understand the contributions earth observation-based applications can make to farming livelihoods.
Capacity development needs identified in Kenya included providing training on the use of EO-based applications to a diversity of stakeholders, through user workshops but also by making sure that products are accompanied by detailed supporting documentation. Participants also highlighted the challenges of integrating data from different sources, particularly when data owners may be unwilling to share because they fear losing a commercial advantage. Attendees additionally highlighted the need to engage with rural realities to ensure that the products created are genuinely relevant to the livelihoods of rural people, and to complement satellite earth observation data with the indigenous knowledge held in rural communities.
Our thanks to Vivianne Meta, Vance Udoto, Evelyn Nanjala, Elvis Khamala, Steve Omondi and all colleagues at LocateIT for organising the workshop, and to the workshop participants for generously sharing their expertise and experiences.
A full report on AfriCultuReS 2019 User Workshop outcomes will be shared on the website in early 2020. Further information is also available in the coverage of the workshop by the Kenyan newspaper the Daily Nation
User workshop 27th September
The third AfriCultuReS User Workshop of 2019 was hosted by the Centre for GIS and Remote Sensing of the University of Rwanda on 27th September 2019. This workshop included representatives from local and national government departments, research/academia, and farmers’ organisations.
The workshop showed the importance of integrating AfriCultuReS products and services into the rapidly evolving Rwandan geospatial sector. There are an increasing number of earth observation based products available in Rwanda and an increasing number of locally-produced high-resolution ground datasets. This offers exciting potential for collaboration, but brings with it an accompanying risk of duplication and redundancy. Meaningful partnerships with Rwandan institutions will therefore be essential to the success of any new project.
Discussion of capacity development priorities highlighted the limited technological infrastructure in Rwanda available to support new applications, and the funding constraints which make it difficult to address these infrastructure gaps. The preference of stakeholders would of course be to invest in improved infrastructure; but given that this is unlikely to be achieved in the near-term, emphasis was placed on the importance of offline functionality. Participants also highlighted the need for training adapted to the requirements of different stakeholder groups, for example through technical sessions, workshops, classroom training, or via media such as radio which are in Kinyarwanda and which have broad reach in the country.
Our thanks to CGIS and particularly to Clarisse Kagoyire, Maurice Mugabowindekwe and Joseph Tuyishimire for organising the workshop, and to all the attendees for taking the time to participate and share their perspectives.
A full report on the outcomes of the 2019 AfriCultuReS User Workshops will be available on the website in early 2020.
User workshop 17th September 2019
The first of the AfriCultuReS 2019 User Workshops was held at the Innovation Hub in Pretoria on 17th September. Organised by the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), this workshop brought together representatives from government departments, research institutions, agribusiness and private enterprise to discuss the progress of the AfriCultuReS project and the priority capacity development needs in South Africa.
Workshop discussions illuminated the vibrant Earth Observation for Sustainable Development scene existing in South Africa, and how important it is for new projects to understand this scene in order to avoid replicating existing products. Workshop participants stressed the importance of engaging with stakeholders at all stages of the value chain associated with a new agricultural application based on satellite earth observation, from product developers to the farmers themselves. Participants also discussed potential business models for new applications based on satellite earth observation in South Africa – all participants had witnessed projects which collapsed after initial funding had run out, and so financial sustainability was a key concern.
Capacity development priorities identified for South Africa included raising of awareness about the value of satellite earth observation among all stakeholders, for example through training-of-trainers workshops and dissemination of success stories. Participants also highlighted the challenges of disseminating information in rural South African contexts, particularly to poorer and otherwise marginalised farmers, and suggested a need to use communication strategies such as radio and SMS in local languages for information sharing.
Our thanks to SANSA and particularly to Nosiseko Mashiyi and Mahlatse Kganyago for leading the organisation of the workshop, and to all the workshop participants for sharing their time and experience.
A full report on AfriCultuReS 2019 workshop outcomes will be available on the website in early 2020.
Services in development (poster GEO week Canberra, Australia)
Weather forecasting for agriculture in Africa,
the business case?
TWIGA team visiting a TAHMO weather station in Ghana
(courtesy: TAHMO & TWIGA project)
Weather information is a priority for farmers, whether they use irrigation or not. It should be localised, timely and accurate enough, to make the information relevant at field level. In Africa, this is often not the case, although there are information providers, such as aWhere and Weather Impact, that are active on the continent.
There is a clear need for local meteo stations, not only for increasing the density of the meteorological observation network, but also for other parameters. To give an example: humidity is very important for to assess the conditions in which late blight disease in potatoes can occur (information derived from satellites only is not accurate enough).
An organisation that aims at filling this gap is TAHMO. TAHMO has now 400 stations and plans to go to 20,000 meteo stations quickly.
But who pays for all this? Cooperation with national meteo agencies is a must, but the budget available is limited. Advertising, as with weather forecasting in developed countries (e.g. buienradar (shower radar) in the Netherlands) is not an option in Africa. In addition, these applications provide their information on the web, while in Africa transmission through SMS and IVR would be more appropriate and needs to be done in the local language(s).
An option is to provide weather forecasting in combination with other services. This could be an inclusive model, paid for in combination with other services in a package, such as agricultural advice. Another option is to make use of a loyalty model: offer weather forecasting in combination with fertiliser or pesticides (paid for by the supplier of these inputs).
Weather forecasting can also be considered as a public good. It can then be offered in a service model, paid for by the government, such as the AgriCloud app (a cooperation between the South African Weather Service (SAWS), Hydrologic and others that provides very important and much needed information on the start of the rainy season.
See also “Get this weather app on your cell phone” by Nico Kroese. Here the government has to step in to perform a public function by reducing risk and increasing production and, of course, by paying for the service.
And all this does not even take the context of climate change into account that makes weather forecasting even more important and relevant.
If anyone has examples of successful weather forecasting applications that have found a sustainable business model, you are very welcome to share them with me!
AfriCultuReS supports AGRHYMET monthly bulletins
AGRHYMET produces each month a newsletter called AGRHYMET monthly bulletin, this bulletin is distributed through a mailing list of 4000 contacts. The bulletin is also distributed on CRA, CILSS and INSAH websites, and distributed to participants during the workshops.
During the rainy season, CRA organizes every 10 days a follow-up meeting of the agro-pastoral campaign, this meeting called a ten-day briefing is always sanctioned by a summary which is distributed internally and to certain partners, to allow these users to follow regularly the situation of the agro-pastoral campaign.
To ensure the visibility of donors, projects and technical partners who have contributed to the production of information, the logo of each one is added on the last page of the bulletin, as is the case with the AfriCultuReS project logo.
The bulletins are directed at technicians from the ministries of CILSS and ECOWAS member countries, NGO technicians and producer organizations, students and researchers.
Access the bulletins
Grant for AfriCultuReS
The H2020 AfriCultuReS project has been awarded by GEO (Group on Earth Observations) and AWS (Amazon Web Services) under the Amazon Sustainability Date Initiative with cloud services to provide Earth observation services in support of food security in Africa. The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) will coordinate the initiative titled “AfriCultuReS Decision Support System (ADSS) Community Version”.
Europe’s eyes in the sky
“Europe’s eyes in the sky are helping to solve energy, land-use problems in Africa”
is the title of an article (by Aisling Irwin) in Horizon magazine, in which AfriCultuReS participants Juan Suárez, Issa Garba and Mark Noort give their views on achieving food security in Africa with the help of satellite data.
AfriCultuReS user requirements stakeholder workshops
Workshops were held in Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique and South Africa to assess user needs related to Earth observation for food security. The photos below give an impression of the workshops. Additional workshops are scheduled for Tunisia and Niger.
The Business Daily wrote an article on the stakeholder workshop held in Kenya:
“Timely data will unlock farming potential, tech experts advise”.
Workshop participants Kenya Workshop participants Ghana
Workshop participants South Africa Workshop participants Rwanda
Workshop participants working in groups,
Comparison of the spatial detail between a MODIS LAI image (a) and a downscaled LAI image (b) for the Umbeluzi study area (Mozambique)
Downscaling of MODIS LAI data
Presentation in IGARSS 2018
The International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium is a premier event in remote sensing and provides an ideal forum for obtaining up-to-date information about the latest developments, exchanging ideas, identifying future trends and networking with the international geoscience and remote sensing community. This year it is taking place in Valencia, Spain, with the theme "Understanding and Forecasting the Dynamics of our Planet" (https://igarss2018.org/).
Partner AUTH is presenting "Spatial enhancement of MODIS Leaf Area Index (LAI) using regression analysis with Landsat Vegetation Index". The aim of this study was to enhance the spatial resolution of the MODIS LAI product using a downscaling model that combines Enhanced Vegetation Index and LAI images from the two satellites. The results show that it is possible to use this methodology to reliably estimate LAI at a 30m spatial resolution across various climates and ecosystems, thus supporting a food security early warning system.
The presentation is on Friday 27 July 2018, 9:30am.
From large to small or from small to large?
Lessons from the use of mobile apps and geodata apps for smallholder farmers
Satellite and geodata applications for smallholder agriculture are quite new, more general apps for smallholders that make use of mobile technology are around a bit longer. A number of these mobile initiatives have been evaluated (have a look at www.gsma.com) and it is interesting to look at the finding to see where geodata and mobile apps could complement each other, also with an eye on new application fields, such as (inclusive) finance.
The approaches differ: apps that originate from mobile network operators (MNOs) tend to go for reaching large numbers of farmers quickly and then adjust the content, while the geodata service providers start small to get the tech aspects right and then go for scaling up.
This said, there are three areas where geodata could provide added value to mobile apps:
Conversely, geodata-based apps, such as those developed in the Geodata for Agriculture and Water (G4AW) Facility (https://g4aw.spaceoffice.nl/en/) can learn lessons in scaling up from mobile apps that already target large numbers of smallholders. Getting the tech aspects right is important, but reaching sufficient clients to make operations sustainable does not automatically follow from that.
Making use of power users (and/or authority figures as ambassadors), keeping the pricing model simple, making the service easy to operate for farmers, using local languages and metrics, taking illiteracy into account and taking care of long-term incentives for those in direct contact with the farmers are important findings from the evaluation of the impact of mobile apps that can be taken to heart in the further development of geodata-based apps.
In a fully operational phase the distinction between mobile apps and geodata apps will disappear. My expectation is that the two will be fully integrated, once the geodata apps get behind the experimental stage.
Expect this to happen pretty soon!
Food Security Thematic Exploitation Platform
Juan Suárez presented the AfriCultuReS project during the 2nd workshop of the Food Security Thematic Exploitation Platform, FS-TEP, an initiative supported by ESA (held in Frascati, Italy, from March 5 -7).
Juan stressed the importance of involving all stakeholders: with its strong presence in Africa and participation of African partners, AfriCultuReS can cooperate with the FS-TEP partners in pilot cases and applications.
Juan Suarez, Business Development Manager at GMV, Spain
“Excited to coordinate such an exceptional group of people working together to meet the challenge of improving food security in Africa.”
Mark Noort, Director at HCP international, the Netherlands
"The SBAM (Satellite Based Agricultural Monitoring) project, funded by Italian Space agency and covering Kenya, is very much in line with the objectives of AfriCultuReS!" (http://sbam.psm.uniroma1.it/)
AfriCultuReS in the EuroGEOSS launch
The AfriCultuReS project was presented as one of the example projects in the EuroGEOSS launch event that was organized in the week of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), held in Washington DC from October 23 – 26, 2017.
Professor Pierre Defourny of the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium highlighted AfriCultuReS in his presentation on the EuroGEOSS agricultural pilot.
More information on EuroGEOSS
December 6, 2017
AfriCultuReS project uses EO to support farmers
November 29, 2017
Thirteen Consortia of Institutions to Implement the GMES and Africa Support Programme