Using modern technologies to plan planting seasons, monitor crop production

Wednesday September 9 2015

By Pauline Bangirana

Various stakeholders and partners convened in Kampala on September 3 for a discussion on the use of modern technologies such as remote sensing to improve crop production in Uganda. The expectation is that if there is better monitoring and ability to forecast yields, this will contribute to the efficiency of production.
The results shared were from AgriSense-STARS, a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-supported research project, which is currently based in Moroto District.
“We chose Moroto because of its easy access although we are expanding the scope. Some of the methods used in other countries can be used here and we can monitor the district,” said Catherine Nakalembe, a faculty research assistant at University of Maryland, who is involved in the study.

Sustainable practices
Under the project, an area of approximately 10 by 10 kilometres is monitored using satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, also known as drones). Such remote sensing technologies are used to identify cropland, crop type, and discover areas with agricultural potential.
The project is a part of STARS, a wider project that was started in 2014, explained Dr Rolf A. de By, a professor from University of Twente, who was one of the presenters.
Besides Uganda, STARS covers Tanzania, Mali, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Mexico. Some of the benefits it will generate include access to accurate information by the farmers about land usage. In turn, this will help improve food production since the data provided helps a farmer plan for the planting season thus promoting sustainable farming practices.

Nakalembe elaborated that some of the challenges the research faces is getting proof on what is happening in the field. This because the farmers may not report accurately on what is going on in the farm without a field technician available.
“We need partners’ input on the variables that are to be monitored; growth stage, crop height and assessment of conditions, pests and diseases,” she added.

Enhance partnerships
For the project to succeed, the participants agreed on creating enhancing synergies, networking and sharing and storing data for future reference.
The half-day workshop drew representatives from MAAIF (Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation), WFP(World Food Programme), AgriProFocus, Uganda National Farmers Federation, Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Ministry of Water and Environment, ESSIPS (Environmental Surveys, Information, Planning and Policy Systems International) to mention but a few. Some of the partners included the Universities of Maryland and Twente