The “Old McDonald had a farm e-i-e-i-o” refrain in the classic children’s song is slightly outdated. Today, along with farm animals, one might add a drone to the menagerie. For example, in the southeastern African country of Mozambique which borders the Indian Ocean, a company aptly named “ThirdEye” is aiding farmers to be better farmers through drone technology.
ThirdEye is a graduate of the global “Securing Water for Food” program, an effort by USAID, and the governments of Netherlands, South Africa, and Sweden to address a looming water and food crisis.
The ThirdEye is a project of the Dutch initiative FutureWater where smallholder farmers’ fields are mapped by drone operators in Mozambique to determine if certain cropping areas are stressed.
The company analyses high resolution, infrared photos taken by the drones and experts process the pictures and give advice to farmers when problems are revealed through imaging.
“We can tell 10 days earlier if a crop or certain portion of a crop is distressed compared to a farmer analyzing it at ground level,” said Bacelar Muneme, of FutureWater.
Muneme discussed the innovation at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in The Hague recently sponsored by the US State Department and the Dutch government. He was one of a select 1,200 innovators chosen to attend the summit.
“If the image shows up red, it means the crops are distressed. Yellow means they are in danger and green means they are healthy,” said Muneme. “We advise the farmer on what steps to take.”
Stress on plants can be caused by either too little or too much water or by them not getting enough or too much fertilizer. Additionally, the photos can determine if the plants have an infestation.
The drones —and ThirdEye operates three of them—make three passes at intervals over the crops. The first flight is a benchmark, the second to see how the plants are doing after certain adjustments, and a final one during a season.
Currently, ThirdEye has about 1,000 clients, but Muneme said they could expand this base with more drones. However, the technology is expensive, and most often, farmers band together to afford the process.
“The farmers have a great reaction to the ThirdEye program,” said Muneme. “Mostly, the word gets out about its benefits through word of mouth, though we have done some social media.”
They purchase the drones in the Netherlands.
Muneme said his company had various obstacles to overcome, including having to get permission from the government to utilize drones. He said the guidance he received from SWFF allowed them to better understand the long-term business realities.
“From the SWFF program, we learned that we have to think on every stage of the business, not just the first six-month period,” he explained.
Muneme said that with the drones, they sometimes have to deliver bad news to the farmer that his crops are in distress, but, that really translates into good news.
“The droves give the farmer an opportunity to do something about a crop that is not performing as it should,” he said.
USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and the Governments of The Netherlands and South Africa invested $34 million in Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to promote science and technology solutions that enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.