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Satellites and mobile phones improve crop productivity in Sudan


Using satellite data and mobile phones, an innovative project funded by CTA has helped farmers in the Gezira irrigation scheme, Sudan, to more than quadruple their wheat yields while conserving water and other key inputs.

Before he tried the technology for himself, Ahmed Ibrahim Wakea Allah was sceptical about the value of the information that he would receive from the project. But in the 2014/2015 season, he harvested 12 sacks of wheat per acre, up from less than three sacks per acre in 2013/14. This gave him an income of about 80,000 Sudanese pounds (over US$13,400) from his 8-acre farm, compared with a loss of 8,000 pounds in the previous season. He will not go back to cultivating wheat the way he used to before using this technology, he told an audience at the Hydraulic Research Center, Wad Medani, on 20 May 2015. All 44 participating farmers increased their crop productivity, including wheat, chickpea and onion.

The project used satellite imagery to improve water management and crop husbandry in the Gezira irrigation scheme, one of the largest irrigation projects in the world. Satellite images are being used to provide information on crop growth, humidity, and nutrient needs of plants.This information is stored in the project’s website. Based on this, specialists send SMS messages to farmers’ phones, telling them the best time to irrigate their crops, when to apply fertiliser and how much and other crop husbandry advice. The advice takes into account the current state of the farm, the expected weather for the next five days, the date of the last irrigation and other agronomic factors.

Addressing the project’s closing workshop on 20 May 2015, Professor Yasir Abbas, Director General of the Hydraulic Research Center, talked of the interest generated in the technology among both farmers and administrators working in the Gezira scheme. He noted that farmers participating in the project irrigated their crops more often, but applied less water than non-participating farmers, and increased their yields by an average of 60%. Management of irrigation water is a crucial element in increasing crop productivity, he noted.

The project has increased farmers’ confidence in using information and communication technologies (ICTs) to receive extension advice, said Prof. Abbas. The Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, Mr Mahmoud Hamed, also expressed support for rolling out the system more widely in the Gezira scheme, and there is interest in the approach from other irrigation schemes in the country.

Commenting on the success of the project, Dr Benjamin K. Addom, ICT4D Programme Coordinator at CTA, stated that this is just one of the many success stories yet to be featured on CTA’s recent initiative on ‘Building Viable Delivery Models for ICT4Ag’. These ‘proof of concept’ projects serve to demonstrate how ICTs can empower smallholder farmers economically through viable models. But scaling up these proof-of-concept models will require wide-ranging partnerships if Ahmed Ibrahim Wakea Allah of Sudan and millions of other smallholder farmers across the developing world are to benefit from the potentials of the new ICTs and not have to go back to their “old ways” of farming.

The project was implemented on Gezira Irrigation Scheme by the Dutch company eLEAF and the Sudanese Hydraulic Research Center, with funding from CTA.

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This article is based on a report of the closing workshop that appeared in the Sudanese newspaper, Altayar, on Sunday, 24 May 2015 (issue # 1339).

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