Business Development and Technology Officer, WaterWatch Cooperative
Data to Decisions
Every day, smallholder farmers around the world must look out at their fields and make crucial decisions that could drastically affect their livelihoods. These farmers will also play a critical role in meeting the ever-growing food production needs of our planet. Waterwatch Cooperative’s mission is to make essential information about weather, water supply, and crop conditions more easily available to farmers and other players in the agri-food value chain. It does so by developing information services for farmers and others in the agricultural value chain based on earth observation data (geodata). Localized and timely information enables smallholder farmers to increase yield and income whilst reducing the use of pesticides, fertilizers and water.
The majority of the 475 million smallholder farmers (82% of all farmers worldwide) live in Asia, Africa and Latin America. They grow food for their own families and for the local market but many also grow cash crops such as coffee, cocoa, tea, cotton, fruits and vegetables and spices. They are confronted with changing and severe weathers, soil degradation, pest and diseases and limited access to information about the weather, their crops and the use of good agricultural practices. Many of them are trapped in a vicious circle of poverty and young people decide to leave the land.
Providing them with essential advice on what to grow, when to grow, and how to grow, allows them to make better business decisions and build a better life for themselves and support local communities. Not only for the farmers themselves, but the AgriFood sector as a whole benefits from this Digital Transformation. Many in the AgriFood sector realize that, in order to feed the world in 2050, the sector must change. Food will become traceable from ‘field-to-fork’. Smart farming will be carried out as part of a circular economy and within a healthy eco-system that nurtures our planet.
Using satellite data in agriculture has major advantages. However the adaptation of such data and technologies in a way that it becomes relevant, attainable and affordable is a major challenge.
Working with SAP and using SAP® Cloud Platform, Waterwatch developed the Crop Disease Alert app. The app was developed in the Runlive Truck of SAP Netherlands at the Global Forum for Innovation in Agriculture (GFIA) in Utrecht. The app combines two essential data-elements: a location-based weather forecast and algorithms on 13 crops and 35 different crop diseases. With the app, farmers receive an alert on upcoming crop diseases and are able to take timely measures. The Crop Disease Alert app is the first mass-market app. The current web version of the Crop Disease Alert is used by 3000 farmers in the Netherlands. At present, the mobile app of the Crop Disease Alert is tested with farmers in Kenya and Burundi. The Crop Disease Alert is projected to be used by 1 million farmers by 2019.
The Crop Disease Alert is offered since 2017 to Dutch farmers through Bayer Crop Science. With the introduction of the mobile version of the Crop Disease Alert, it is possible to reach smallholder farmers. Waterwatch has started in Burundi with 170.000 smallholder farmers and in Kenya with 120.000 smallholder farmers. Recently coffee and coffee leaf rust have been added to the Crop Disease Alert app and will be tested in Honduras with coffee farmers. The Crop Disease Alert will be offered for 1 dollar per crop per field per year. The advantages for farmers are substantial as they are able to prevent 20 to 40% crop loss. The business model is based on the ‘economy-of-scale’ principle: selling the app for a low prices to eventually millions of farmers.
The introduction of the crop disease alert with smallholder farmer is a first step. A next pilot is started in Kenya where Waterwatch adds with satellite imagery a monitoring component of the crops and ground based pictures for validation (taken by the farmer with his/her mobile). In Burundi and Kenya the Crop Disease Alert will be further developed to a full-functional GROWER App advising smallholder farmers what to grow (based on soil-, weather- and market-data), when to grow (based on weather forecasts and satellite imagery) and how to grow (crop- and disease pressure, advice on the use of fertilizers and pesticides).
- Reduced yield loss due to crop diseases by 20 - 40%
- Reduced usage of pesticides by 20%
- Improved farming practices will increase yield: Cocoa farming in Ghana improved from 400 kg/hectare to 1500 kg/hectare.
- Supported farmers to navigate through the difficult times of climate change where standard patterns of rainfall are not valid anymore.
- Waterwatch provided access to detailed and localized weather to cope with this massive impact.
- Higher yield and less loss reduces hunger for subsistent smallholder farmers: SDG1: No Hunger
- Higher yield will enable smallholder farmers to become part of the value chain which will increase their income
- Enough income will enable smallholder farmers to become credible for banks and able to invest in their business and the future of their family: SDG2: End Poverty
- SAP Cloud Platform
- SAP Cloud Identity Service
- SAP HANA HRF
- SAP HANA PAL
- SAP HANA
- Google Maps
- SAP UI5 application
The use of geodata, artificial intelligence and predictive analysis is considered to be the next big step in agricultural practice. According to a report of McKinsey, agriculture is the least digitized sector. SMART Agriculture is rapidly changing this. The main challenge however is how to reach and connect the 475 million smallholder farmers. The challenge here is not just of a technical nature but more how we can make that technique simple and relevant enough for these farmers to take the actions required. An additional challenge is how we can develop business models that can be applied at scale. Most existing initiatives focus on developing a ‘proof-of-concept’ model only to discover that the real problem is elsewhere. The approach of Waterwatch is to focus right from the beginning on a viable and scalable business model.
During a recent visit to Burundi and Kenya we spoke to young farmers (man and women) who showed great eagerness to work with new techniques. One female farmer remarked to us that “we should have had this yesterday”.