Started in November 2017, NADiRA – Nurturing Africa’s Digital Revolution for Agriculture – is an innovation action to develop the use of Earth Observation (EO) in contractual smallholder agriculture, improving risk management, efficiency, productivity, financial security and inclusive welfare benefits for all value chain stakeholders.
Africa is undergoing a transformative change, driven by youth, urbanization and information technology. This social and economic revolution harbors massive pent-up demand for sustainable digital solutions to realize Africa’s potential for quality food, feed, fuel, pharmaceutical production, for domestic consumption and export on world markets. NADiRA harnesses recent improvements in the resolutions, density, continuity and inter-calibration of EO missions to mainstream the use of COPERNICUS, other EO products and IoT technologies inside advanced digital value chains heralded by the agCelerant™ agricultural business orchestrator.
The NADiRA consortium developed the processing chains required for satellite augmented detection of plot-level agronomic practices (e.g. plowing, flooding, harvesting), monitoring of crop response, and – with the support of novel, low-cost IoT sensor networks and multi-model simulations – crop yield forecasting.
Corresponding workflows were connected into MANOBI’s agCelerant™ value chain orchestrator, which links agricultural smallholders to banks, insurance, input suppliers and agro-industry to cover the needs of the entire agricultural value chain continuum. During 2018, NADiRA produced encouraging results towards the operationalization of these services in irrigated rice cropping systems, using Sentinel-2 satellite data.
Host software platform
Simultaneously, the consortium developed a Geospatial Exploitation Platform (GEP), capitalizing on technologies and expertise developed with the European Space Agency during the last decade. Delivered in 2018 as a prototype implemented on Google Cloud, the GEP uses state of the art technology to organize, discover, collect and manage large quantities of geo-referenced data.
Its interfacing with agCelerant™ makes it the world’s first fully automated processing system providing concurrent detection of field-level agricultural events, monitoring of crop response, and production forecasts based on combined field and EO data streams, which are both essential for operational exploitation and scalability, particularly in heterogeneous smallholder agriculture.
Deployment of the first pilots
The first pilot in January 2018 aimed to monitor the irrigated rice crop season in the Senegal River Valley. Initially targeted at 4,000 farmers, the pilot highlighted the critical importance of data quality in field data streams to ensure service relevance. To solve this pivotal issue, automatic field data consistency checks, based on Artificial Intelligence techniques were developed and implemented into agCelerantTM.
Two rain fed crop pilots were later launched in Senegal and Nigeria by the consortium, implementing crop models combining field and Earth Observation to monitor overall crop conditions, emergent anomalies, and forecast final production. In Senegal, the objective was to test the operational preparedness of the business model on a limited scale (190 farmers), based on an agCelerantTM contract linking rice producers with a microfinance institution, an insurer and an industrial buyer. In Nigeria, the consortium enrolled 2,000 sorghum farms in the Bauchi, Kano and Niger states developing the data infrastructure and field data baselines to assess the feasibility of extending NADiRA’s technical capability into the larger, but more complex rainfed agricultural systems typical of Africa’s smallholder agriculture.
The NADiRA project now enters its second phase, where pilots will be deployed to monitor the 2019 cropping seasons and demonstrate the operational capacity of the system.
Marketing the future solution
MANOBI undertook early outreach actions to market agCelerantTM as a vehicle for the numerous innovations developed in the framework of NADiRA. Key partners from several African countries expressed strong interest in the orchestration of smallholder value chains development, including the Islamic Development Bank, in relation to its Regional Rice Value Chain Programme, and Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD). Several significant business opportunities were subsequently developed in 2018, which represent a positive input, based on a sound multi-scale analysis of market conditions, towards a viable business plan for NADiRA and the confirmation of NADiRA’s first commercial market by 2020.
About the NADiRA consortium
NADiRA was jointly conceived by SpaceBel – a leading Space company in Europe – and Manobi – the African pioneer in value chain orchestration covering the agriculture, water, artisan fisheries, sanitation and local governance sectors. Both key actors are leading an international consortium of reputable organizations comprising SwissRe (Switzerland), the University of Liège (Belgium), Viveris Technologies (France), ICRISAT (Nigeria) and the EUGENIUS association (France). The Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) CGIAR Research Program provides additional leverage to NADiRA partners in countries.