Astral Aerial Solutions

  • Astral Aerial Solutions creating impact on small holder farmers within the DAT program by World Bank

The resounding theme at the Africa Green Revolution Forum, AGRF 2021, is that it is time for the African farmer to go commercial. It is time for the African farmer to consider agriculture as a commercially viable endeavour with the potential to drastically improve the quality of life as well as elevate food security in Africa.

Technology is a key driver in this endeavour to enable farm enterprise management, food traceability, food harvesting and storage management, logistics and finally access to food markets locally, regionally and even globally. Technologies like smart phone devices, internet connectivity, sensor technology and artificial intelligence have immense potential to steer Agriculture in this direction.

With drones fitted with remote sensing tools, Astral Aerial has brought geospatial agricultural information to non-specialist users, that is, the small-scale farmers in Kiambu, Machakos and Narok.

Kiambu – one farmer’s impact at a time

 In Karai ward, Kiambu county, we came across a unique case of Frashiah Njeri and Joel Gatundu, whose farms are in the area. It had rained heavily a few days before the mapping work was carried out. The effect of the rains was felt hardest by the farmer, where the farms flooded soon after the rains. Crop losses seemed to be lurking just around the corner for Frashiah and Joel.

Weather incidences are common for Kenyan farmers. Unfortunately, farmers carry on with their crop enterprises with the hopes that the final crop harvest will be sufficient to offset any losses encountered due to this

But herein lies an opportunity to protect Freshiah and Joel’s livelihood. With a geo-referenced digital record of the flooded farm, it is possible to firstly, show the status of the farm, and secondly, accurately quantify the extent of the damage by taking measurements of the affected farm areas. This makes it easier, accurate and efficient for post event assessment and claims processing.

That is the impact of contextualised agricultural information in the hands of the farmer. It shifts their livelihood from dependance on fate, to knowledge driven farm management.

Narok – collaborative impact

Small holder farmers in Africa / Kenya work together in farmers groups which offers key benefits in aspects such as input supply, where they are able to negotiate competitive prices for inputs supplied in bulk; group training, and finally contract farming.

With agricultural maps of farms such as those below of Afila, Hellen and Maria’s farm, farm input performance can be assessed at a particular instance during the growing season. This will ensure optimum input supplier selection for the group, based on evidence backed input performance.

On the market side of the agricultural supply chain, the individual farm map is a true digital record of the farm that can be used for verification of aggregate farm sizes in contract farming negotiations with both local and export markets. More importantly, the farm map is timestamped and therefore will show the farm status as the farmer prepare for harvest to indicate the expected yields and also verify their capability to meet market order demands.

Finally, the maps, when linked to farm owners and farmer co-operatives, ensure that the produce is traceable to the source farm. This ensures crop quality and shall also allow access to the liberalized food markets by verifying that their products meet food safety regulations.

Machakos – if it’s good for the farmer, it’s good for the county

At a macro level, Kenya faces challenges in offering agricultural extension services to farmers owing to the limited extension personnel. With a current ratio of 1 extension officer to 1,500 farmers, it is an uphill task to ensure timely and efficient extension services if they are able to offer the services to farmers at all.

With the crop health map like this one from Machakos county, it is possible to gauge the farm performance in terms of the health of the crops within the area and therefore prioritize extension services on a need basis.

Additionally, the map is accurately geo-referenced and therefore identifies the exact problematic locations on farms. This makes farm scouting easier as the extension service will be focused on these areas as opposed to the whole farm, leading to exponentially high workflow efficiencies and therefore higher farm extension turnover in a day.

This is why Astral Aerial provided agri-data interpretation training to agriculture personnel within the county, therefore equipping them with the skills to understand the maps as well as use it to provide such services to farmers. Making the subsequent use of remote sensing data in the county sustainable.

Additional impact achieved:

Existing data review and correction – Machakos

Production of up to date and high-quality digital farm maps. The data provided gives insights on prevailing farm conditions at the individual farmer level. At the county level, the maps provide an overall indication of KCSAP (Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project) registered farmer distribution, average farm sizes, farm ownership and farm utilization. Our experience during the analysis of the data also brought to fore inaccuracies with the county data. These included data duplications and lack of standardized data collection and software analysis processes. Such issues present within the county data give an opportunity to review and “clean up” the county’s existing data records, as well as standardize the ground data collection processes. Upskilling of county personnel. With the county agricultural personnels’ newly acquired skills in agri-data analysis, the county now has the capacity to utilize the produced digital agricultural maps for the provision of data driven agricultural extension / agricultural support services to small holder farmers. This will eliminate the use of rule of thumb farming practices to be replaced by more the effective and efficient data driven approach.

Community engagement – Narok

In Narok county is predominantly a pastoralist and crop farming region, where land and land issues are culturally sensitive issues. The presence of drones and drone operators within the locality raised suspicions within the community. In one instance, one of our operations was interrupted by local youth armed to defend their farms from what they perceived as a potential threat.

As is standard with Astral Aerial Solutions, community engagement is critical to the success of any operation and consequently ensured that we had an agricultural ward officer, Mr. Ben Samoei accompany us during all our operations in Narok. He did a great job at communicating our operations in a way that the community understood and thus ensuring the community accepted the use of our drones within their locality.

This was our contribution towards familiarizing remote communities with drone implementation and therefore driving drone technology adoption further in Kenya. Watch as our professional drone pilot Mr. Alvin Kibet and Narok agricultural ward officer, Mr. Ben Samoei delve into what community engagement entails and how this contributes to successful drone implementation.