Stories tagged: precision agriculture

Solutions to Climate Change’s Impact on Soil Health

Micael Beun and Wilson Leonardo, IFDC project leads in Burundi and Mozambique, outline on-the-ground solutions for helping African smallholders adapt to climate change and improve soil health.

As climate change threatens agriculture and food systems around the world, its effects reach down to the ground beneath our feet. Soil health across Central and Southern Africa could suffer greatly from the increasing number of extreme climatic events – as sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most climate-vulnerable regions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In two countries in which IFDC works, Mozambique and Burundi, the effects of climate change on soil health can be seen as severe weather events have impacted farmers and their ability to produce crops. On-the-ground activities have enabled IFDC staff to not only observe the effects but formulate solutions to safeguard farmers and mitigate losses.

Creating climate resilience in Mozambique

In Mozambique, the Idai (2019) and Eloise (2021) cyclones resulted in severe flooding, particularly in the Buzi Basin – a cropland-abundant and relatively flat region of the country. The immediate effects of widespread crop loss were exacerbated by salinization of soils due to floodwater.

In its Embassy of Sweden-funded Transfer Efficient Agricultural Technologies through Market Systems (TEAMS) project, IFDC and partners take a two-pronged approach to increasing soil health: Assisting farmers with agricultural intensification combined with extensification to help them rebuild their soils and increase production. Intensifying production through crop rotation, intercropping, and judiciously applying site-specific fertilisers, and extensifying by decreasing input levels on larger areas of land, together mitigate soil nutrient depletion while allowing soils to recover and store organic matter.

Castigo and Helena stand in their rice field after Cyclone Idai. Photo credit: IFDC

Castigo and Helena, two smallholder beneficiaries of the program, applied the recommended climate-smart practices after the Idai floods. Because of this, they could harvest some of their rice for household use, and also save seeds from their plants for the following planting season. Though the loss was still great to these farmers, they demonstrate that climate resilience at a smallholder level is possible.

Building better farming systems in Burundi

In Burundi, heavy rainfall has led to the erosion of fertile soils and leaching of plant nutrients. A common trend seen in Burundi, as well as Mozambique, is the acidification of soils and the depletion of organic matter. In contrast to the approaches taken in the predominantly flat farmland in the Buzi Basin in Mozambique, farmland in Burundi is typified by high population pressure and steeply sloped topography. As such, the approach to improving soil health also differs.

Calinie and Théophile improved their livelihood by improving their soil. Photo credit: IFDC

Like many Burundian farmers, Calinie and Théophile had been farming without improved seed, fertilisers, or farming practices, and limited access to markets. Their farm was not very productive, agriculturally or financially, with their small, steep plots suffering from erosion season after season. But things started to turn around with their family improvement plan involving natural resource management, division of labor, and family nutrition.

Through the Dutch-funded Soil Fertility Stewardship Project (PAGRIS), IFDC and partners help producer families at farm level and communities at watershed level to develop three-year holistic plans to reduce soil erosion and restore soil fertility. Anti-erosion measures such as reforestation, mulching, and contour plowing reduce landscape vulnerability to erosion. To boost productivity and minimize soil nutrient depletion, intercropping and climate-smart cropping techniques are employed. By increasing biomass production at the farm-level, producers can maintain and restore organic matter in soils. IFDC furthermore supports Burundian farmers to access and apply mineral fertilisers and soil amendments through a comprehensive national fertiliser subsidy scheme.

Now, Calinie and Théophile see their farm’s productivity progressively increase, and they take justifiable pride in the results. As part of their plan, they commit to manage their family resources and income in a way that betters the family’s livelihood. The new income is invested in nutritious food, improved housing, schooling for children, and improved inputs.

Integrated Soil Fertility Management

IFDC’s recommended immediate responses to acute and chronic climate crises are embedded into Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM). ISFM is a set of practices, adapted to local conditions, to improve soil quality, and nutrient and water use efficiency, resulting in improved crop productivity. The approach focuses on holistic soil health and includes smart and sustainable application of mineral fertilisers in combination with amendments such as dolomite and organic fertilisers when possible.

The long-term response recommendation is to rebuild local household biomass production such that farmers can reinvigorate the organic matter to increase soil resilience by increasing its capacity to retain nutrients. Climate crises negatively affect farm household biomass production from livestock as birds and animals are lost or displaced. In the long-term, IFDC will support farmers to build biomass production and access amendments to ensure that farmers apply all critical elements to their soils.

While food system complexity varies from region to region, and involves many actors, sustainable food systems are founded on healthy soils. Strengthening the resilience and adaptive capacity of those who care for our soils must become a hallmark of all food systems programs ­– for the good of our farming families and the survival of us all.

Tackling Pandemic Hardships with Precision Agriculture Tools

Alexander Sakal, Chief Business Development Officer at EOS Crop Monitoring Continue reading

10 Ways Precision Agriculture is Transforming Farming

As demand for food grows, we need to ensure the way we produce it remains as environmentally sound as possible. Farmers can now be guided by technology, to use earth’s resources like land and water in the most efficient way. It can also help them apply vital inputs like crop protection and fertilizer in the right amounts. This is called precision agriculture, and here 10 ways Farming First supporters are putting it to good use. Continue reading

My Farm Life: Transforming Brazilian Communities While Growing Grains

Carla Mayara Borges is a third-generation grain farmer from the Mid-West of Brazil who convinced her family to take on an abandoned, unproductive farm in Mato Grosso and triple the size of their farm. Find out how she transformed the land, and with it, the neighbouring community.

I was raised on a small farm, in a very little town that until today relies on agriculture. Throughout my life, my parents prioritized education; I have studied English in the United States and went to university in Germany to study Business Management, which is my passion.

For the last decade, the farming industry in Brazil has been growing fast, driven by the Chinese demand for soybeans. My family has been part of this, using technology to increase productivity and transform degraded land into productive land.

When I graduated in 2012 I came back home to help manage the farm, which was about a third of the size it is now. After the first year, I saw the opportunity to expand, but it would mean having to start a new farm from scratch in a region 650km away. Nonetheless, I was motivated by a desire to develop something myself and make difference in people’s lives.

After some months, we found a degraded grass farm up in the state of Mato Grosso, with almost no productivity or investments, in a forgotten region of the state. I faced the challenge and moved there.

It was a low land region, meaning it was prone to flooding during the summer. To some, this would make it useless for agriculture, but not to us. Our first step was to use GPS technology to measure slope of the area, and plan a drainage system for the farm, so we could solve the problem of excessive water in the land.

We also took soil samples of the whole area, to find out how much lime and gypsum we had to use to correct the acidity of the soil. We used equipment that applied these minerals at different rates, depending on the needs of the soil in each part of the land. We also developed maps of the different types of soils we had on the farm (some areas contained silt, others clay and gravel). Having different soils in the same area made us look for solutions that would enable the plants to grow.

During our first year, we faced lots of problems in the fields. We had problems with nitrogen fixation – our plantations looked very yellow. Also, the gravel spots made it difficult for the plants to emerge because of the of the hot weather. So, in the second year, we used drones and a plane equipped with a camera to take pictures of our first field of soybeans to detect the problems. We started using rice, millet and pasture crops to create a cover, and avoid problems of plant raising due to the silty soil and heat. Planting these crops also improved the microbiology of the land. We also used a machine that enabled us to apply microbial inoculants directly to planting rows, to improve the fixation of nitrogen.

We have now also invested in equipment that plants seeds and applies fertilizer at a variable rate, depending on the type of the soil . We have a local weather station at the farm to help us decide when to start planting and when to stop. Having big, high-tech machinery for planting and harvesting has been critical for this farm, since we have a harsh rainy season that can make us lose our yields if we are not quick to plant and harvest at the right time.

One of our latest investments has made us the first farmers in Brazil to buy a spraying technology called WEEDIT that has sensors allowing it to only spray weeds, vastly reducing the amount of the product sprayed.

We also use technology and software to run operations for the three farms. We use the cloud to centralize all documentation, software to centralize our finances and control our stocks and other agricultural inputs, we even use online groups to make the purchase of machinery parts easier. Our most recent investment is in an app to improve the maintenance management of our machinery fleet, which is also one of my topics of research at Nuffield.

We now are farming 4,000 hectares in this unit. My main inspiration to expand is to transform this poor region, with almost no employment and doomed to underdevelopment, into a region with opportunities they never saw before, through such a noble activity as producing food. We now have 24 direct employees in this unit, with more than 40 people living there.

My daily life isn’t directly related to the production, but rather implementing good management processes to run it as professionally as we can. This involves stock management, controlling costs, human resources, dealing with environmental licenses and purchasing machinery parts. Agriculture in the Mid-West of Brazil is very competitive and you have to be very efficient to be profitable – it is also heavily regulated, so we do have to have to spend a lot of time on management.

I have of course, faced many challenges. A lack of road infrastructure, high costs of production, complicated taxes and governmental regulations, large distances from one town to another, and a lack of a qualified workforce all make farming in Brazil challenging. At the beginning, being a young women in an agricultural leadership role was also sometimes difficult, but my father always gave me space to show my work and implement my ideas, so it’s been rewarding to work with my family.

I do believe that to face these challenges, we have to seek to be a farm full of good values. We invest in high technology to be productive and control costs. We treat our employees as part of our family, teaching technical skills, sports and courses for their personal life. We take care of nature, as we preserve 30 per cent of our land and water. We invest in the community where we are, generating employment, helping schools, Indians that are in our surroundings, and investing in road maintenance.

I am very proud of being a Brazilian farmer, as I do believe Brazil has some of the best practices in sustainability in the world’s agriculture.

Carla will be spoke at the Oxford Farming Conference in January. Follow #OFC18 for live updates.  

Inclusive Innovation 2030

18-19th October 2017

Berlin, Germany

ii2030 will bring together innovators from corporates, startups, the public sector, NGOs, and science to create solutions for a more inclusive society by 2030. The interactive event will employ technology as the engine to manufacture solutions for tomorrow’s biggest challenges. Increasing smallholder farmers’ yields through precision agriculture will be a key focus. Read more >>