Farmers in western Kenya are set to benefit from the use of cutting-edge digital tools to monitor agricultural soil health conditions, and optimise the use of fertilisers, water, and carbon sequestration (plants removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil), in maize production.
Itk, a French-based agtech company undertaking the 18-month long KILIMO project, aims to demonstrate how satellite and modelling technologies can generate tailored, farm-level recommendations at scale.
KILIMO stands for “Kenyan Innovation for Low Impact Maize Production” and the project project will track in real-time, the carbon storage potential of agricultural soils as well as nitrogen and potassium levels.
Satellite imaging will be used to map and track the condition of Vihiga County’s soils through colour spectrometry, which analyses crop colour and density.
This real-time information combined with meteorological data will be fed into itk models to determine the appropriate amounts and types of fertiliser to be applied and at what time, to maximise both crop productivity and sustainability.
These technologies are already widely in use in major maize production regions around the world, including the United States.
The real-time satellite mapping and agronomic modelling can also tackle the fertiliser black market that has been a stumbling block to the fertiliser subsidy government initiative.
“Technology is driving a massive transformation in African agriculture,” said Ms Aline Bsaibes, the director-general, itk.
“What we learn from the KILIMO project regarding soil health and the carbon cycle can be scaled to other regions or countries, as well as used for related climate-smart agriculture initiatives.”
Custom-made recommendations can be sent to individual farmers via SMS or voice messages, ensuring that they use government-issued fertiliser subsidies well. This can also reduce the scheme’s inefficiencies as well as limit the control of subsidised fertiliser black market within the subsidy programme.
“Our scientific objective with the KILIMO project is to accurately capture data on the daily carbon, water, and nutrient cycles of soils,” Bsaibes explained.
“Our decision support tools help to improve soil health, reduce fertiliser use, and increase crop yields while increasing farmers’ sources of income.”
The project is being run by itk, in collaboration with Airbus Defence and Space, which will undertake the initial field measurements using satellite imaging, and academic experts of the UMR Eco & sol, along with IRD, CIRAD, GE-Data (Toulouse & Washington), and Locate-It (Nairobi). The project budget is more than 800,000 euros.
Itk offers other digital and mobile tools to support African farmers to improve their maize and cotton production through their partner e-Tumba, which is well established on the continent.
The project is supported by the French Ministry of Economy and Finance, which helps French companies to expand the global use of green technologies.