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19th July 23
Climate Smart Agriculture for Food Security
Satellite Imagery and Machine Learning – The Case of OneSoil and Cropnuts
As the backbone of the Africa’s major economic activity, geared towards zero hunger and no poverty, agriculture is key in driving food security and promoting employment especially for the 98% of rural households that engage in farming as their main source of income.
With the looming food security challenge the world will have to produce 70% more food by 2050 to feed an estimated population of 9 billion people. This implies that continent’s consumer food market estimated to be worth over $1 trillion dollars by 2030, will be growing rapidly, providing numerous opportunities for agribusinesses in the sector. Currently, the food security challenge is heightened by the extreme vulnerability of agriculture to climate change which is already being witnessed through erratic weather patterns (droughts and floods), invasive crops and pests and rising temperatures. At farm level, climate change is evident in the reduced crop yields and their nutritional quality as well as low livestock productivity. Also, by virtue of its operations, agriculture is a contributor to the climate change problem, as it generates between 19% to 29% of the total greenhouse gas emissions one way being through methane emissions from food lost and waste which is about 1/3 of the food produced.
In addressing the interlinked challenge between food security and climate change, the World Bank advocates for Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) which it defines as an integrated approach towards managing croplands, livestock, forest and fisheries. CSA can simultaneously, increase agricultural productivity and enhance resilience to climate change and attract funding from potential investors which calls for innovative solutions in the sector. A diagnosis of innovations in Agriculture for the continent, reveals that the innovations are clustered around Agri-Fintech and Agribusiness marketplaces. Often the business models adopted by these solutions revolve around a digital platform where farmers can purchase Agri inputs, have access to financial services and financing in form of credit, gain knowledge on farm management and best farming practices and find buyers for their produce. While these innovations may be supportive to small holder farmers, they miss out on directly influencing the farming processes which is critical for the growth of the sector.
Satellite Imagery and Machine Learning for Agriculture
Advanced technologies, in particular satellite imagery and machine learning have become powerful tools are proving to be the much needed innovative solutions that farmers need in contributing towards the aforementioned challenges. They enable farmers to be precise in their farming activities as they are able to assess the health of their crops, identify stressed or damaged areas, and make informed decisions about irrigation, fertilizer application, and pest management. This is made possible through images of agricultural fields captured using satellites from which the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NVDI) is derived. NVDI is a measure used to assess the health and abundance of vegetation in a particular area. Often the satellite imagery is accompanied by ground truth data that has been manually annotated to indicate specific classes, categories or properties relating to farming against which ML algorithms can be trained. When the algorithms are trained using the annotated data, they can learn the patterns between the satellite imagery and ground truth data and make predictions or identify anomalies such as disease outbreak or areas of trained vegetation. At large, land cover changes can be monitored environmental conditions assessed and ecosystems studied. While precision farming technologies may be biased towards large scale farmers dealing in row crops such as rice, corn and wheat, small holder farmers can also benefit from it
The Case of OneSoil
As a customized technology driving precision farming, OneSoil an AgTech company based in Switzerland is enabling farmers to optimally invest their resources though use of data thanks to satellite imagery and machine learning. Farmers can remotely monitor the state of crops, quickly detect field issues, work with productivity zones, apply variable-rate fertilizers and seeds to increase their yields and promote sustainable farming practices.
Available in its web and mobile versions, the data driven technology is minimizing the impact of agricultural activities to the environment and mitigating food security concerns, especially in region prone to drought, flooding, or other natural calamities. In 2021, the company raised $5 million from international investors Almaz Capital and PortfoLion to scale its operations having reached over 300,000 farmers covering 5% (197 million acres) of the world’s arable land across more than 180 countries in two and a half years after its launch. It is estimated that in that similar period the company saved 2,800 tons of fertilizers and 4,500 tons of CO2 emissions.
The Case of Cropnuts
As East Africa’s leading agricultural testing laboratory and agronomy advisory services company with over 22 years of experience and a portfolio of over 75,000 farmer, Cropnuts has been tapping into the power of advanced technology to support more farmer across the SubSaharan Africa with their soil health and crop yields. Among its most adopted AgTech solution is AgViza, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) based soil testing farmer, training and digital crop advisory service solution for smallholder farmers availed at an affordable price. As a Business to Business (B2B) service model, AgViza deployed through partners such as inputs manufacturers, aggregators, development organization, financial institutions among others who support farmers in addressing their key challenges. AgViza is being fronted as a financial inclusion driver among these farmers through its soil testing and specific inputs recommendations that are improving their yields thus de-risking lending from financial institutions. Cropnuts innovative solutions have attracted funding support from impact investors DOB Equity and AHL Venture Partners
With an estimated 33 million smallholder farms contributing up to 70% of the food supply in the continent, more farmers need to be empowered with such technological solutions to increase their contribution towards climate change and food security. While at it, these solutions should be availed in the market, customized to suit the different needs of the individual farmers which can be the key to unlocking more funding in the agriculture sector and encouraging climate adaptive activities at farm level.