Guest blog: Who is Watching my Space?

AgroCares is the lead partner in the Cropmon project that aims to make crop monitoring information available and affordable to smallholder farmers in Kenya. Other partners include Springg BV, NEO BV, Weather Impact BV, Cereal Growers Association (CGA), Coffee Management Services Ltd (CMS), Equity Group Foundation (EGF), Sugar Research Institute (SRI) and SoilCares Ltd. Every month Cropmon issues a newsletter with blogs written by project participants. The following blog was originally published in the Cropmon newsletter earlier this year. In it Dr. Betty A. Mulianga from KALRO Sugar Research Institute explains how the Cropmon service helps farmers to enhance their yield by undertaking the best crop management practices.

Who is Watching my Space?

Since inception of the sugar industry, sugarcane farmers expected an extension officer to visit their farms in order to evaluate the status and recommended relevant agricultural practices. This no longer happens due to reduced human resource and the increasing sugarcane farmer population of over 150,000.

Satellite images gather information on crops, soil and weather

The CROPMON project identified Sugar Research Institute (SRI) as one implementing partner in 2016. Through this project, the emphasis is laid on the fact that over 80% of data and information used in planning and decision making relates to a geographical position. In such position, satellite images gather information on crops, soil and weather elements and relays on receiver stations for interpretation. Results of this data permit a cost-effective and accurate means to monitor crop development without visiting the farm. The position of the farm, however, is recorded by an officer under CROPMON on their first visit.

The project then remotely sends a text message to farmers on status of the crop in their fields and expected weather in the coming week based on results of model predictions. One new farmer in the project was disturbed by such a message and called me to ask: “Who is watching my space to know what is happening around me?” “I am forwarding these text messages to you for interrogation”. The farmer had received two text message which read in part:

(1.) “Field: Eburi; Crop type: Sugarcane. Crop development: high growth; Your crop is in good health. Rain chance until Monday is high, 5-21mm. Temperature as previous days. Contact advisor if needed”. 

(2.) “May 21, weather until Friday: rain chance is very high, 7-23mm. Temperature 15-27C. After Friday: rain chance is medium, 2-20mm. Temperature 14-27C”. 

I explained to the new farmer about this secrete observer through CROPMON who undertakes temporal observations of his crop and instructs him on how to enhance his yield by undertaking best crop management practices. Most farmers receive this text advice and share with their neighbours for better understanding, while others call SRI when they are warned about critical cases on their crop. Today, the farmer is happy he utilized the advice from CROPMON service. In December 2017, his farm yielded 67 tons per hectare with no text message service. SRI registered him into the project in January 2018 and trained him along with other farmers in Kisii County. The farmer has been receiving both weather and crop status messages from the project throughout the 15 months of his crop. In March this year (2019), his yield increased from 67 to 83 tons per hectare and he is smiling all the way to the bank.