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Profiling and drones for precise farming practices

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The FEBA/B project used drones to collect agro-weather data (ground cover, soil, contour lines, water stress, surface area, etc.) to help make fertilisation-related decisions

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CTA supports agricultural cooperatives and rural organisations in ACP countries, in conjunction with the Data4Ag project, in order to improve agricultural services by collecting and managing farming data. The AgriTIC project, along with the FEPA/B organisation in Burkina Faso, began in 2017 and has already profiled 2,000 farms.

The AgriTIC project is funded by CTA and AgriCord, in partnership with AFDI, and is implemented by the Burkina Federation of Professional Farmers (FEPA/B), an umbrella organisation that covers three national producer unions (cereals, cowpeas, fruits and vegetables). The FEPA/B encompasses 6,133 groups in 37 provinces (80% of the region), or over 241,000 producers.

The project has three objectives:

  1. To use drones for technical support and farming advice based on the interpretation of data from family-run farms – 10 pilot producers and 10 control-study producers
  2. To develop ICT capacities within the FEPA/B structures
  3. To create 2,000 FEPA/B-member farm profiles

An April 2019 workshop reported that the three objectives have been achieved.

Farm profiling indirectly helps farmers benefit from agro-industrial opportunities and gives them access to agricultural-related funding. In addition, it promotes cooperation between actors in different farming sectors. Project practices and a recent tour of the field have provided varying feedback:

  • The data collection schedule needs to take into consideration different farming seasons; it is difficult to provide pre-season services (group purchases of inputs, weather alerts, blight or insect invasion, etc.) if the farm information is not up to date.
  • Data collection conducted in eight provinces aimed to provide information on producers’ households, equipment, herds and farm surface area. Important parameters, however, were not taken into account, such as credit management and farm administrative locations. Such critical information would facilitate profile searches and analyses.
  • Profile updating is a profiling-related challenge: the current data collection tool includes this functionality.

What added value does drone technology provide?

The FEBA/B project used drones to collect agro-weather data (ground cover, soil, contour lines, water stress, surface area, etc.) to help make fertilisation-related decisions.

This project component, managed by Espace Géomatique, member of Africa Goes Digital, targeted 10 pilot producers from the Kouakoualé community and 10 control-study producers, in order to compare the experiment’s technical and economic data. The results obtained are promising:

  • The field photos taken by the drones provide precise information on farm boundaries and surface areas, for easier planning and budgeting of subsequent farming campaigns and yield forecasts. ‘By having the drone fly over my farm, I was able to obtain the actual surface area of my field,’ said El Hadj Ouedraogo Boukari, pilot producer. ‘I thought my lot measured around 20 ha, when in fact it measures 17 ha. I can better plan my farming activities and manage my corn production budget. Knowledge about one’s field means precise farming!’
  • The analysis of NDVI maps (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index), allows zones of differentiated vegetation vigour to be located; fertilisation efforts can then focus on low-yield zones.
  • Farm management of crop growth and plant diseases is easier.
  • The participative interpretation of NDVI maps is another key project element: it promotes dialogue between different stakeholders. Organised during meetings, but also in the field, this activity precisely demonstrates the differences in farm field zones, and participants consider it a source of extremely valuable information. For subsequent drone aerial mapping activities, it is recommended to analyse the maps after the DTM activity (Digital Terrain Model) and NVDI maps, so the interpretation results and advice can be immediately put into practice.

The AgriTic project has demonstrated the benefits of farm profiling: the method appears to be indispensable since it greatly facilitates long-term investments and planning. The project also serves as a reminder that providing proper agricultural services and advice, which is accessible to small farms, requires a large degree of personal involvement.

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