TechnoServe promotes smart-cashew farming in Benin leveraging on Artificial Intelligence

BENIN – TechchnoServe, an international non-profit organization has partnered with tech-company Alteia to expand its CajùLab project, which aims to promote adoption of smart agriculture in Benin.

The CajùLab project is funded by the Wehubit program of the Belgium Development Agency Enabel and further supported by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Under the partnership according to TechnoServe, the project will focus on cashew production and will leverage on Alteia’s expertise of capturing data, analyze imagery, and deploy AI solutions through the use of drones in a bid to improve farming practices.

Benin’s cashew cultivation has expanded more than tenfold in the past two decades, now accounting for around 17% of the country’s exports (US$437M) and provides income for 200,000 farming families.

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However, there are still challenges to be addressed in order to improve productivity and environmental benefits. In particular, land pressure can lead to environmentally detrimental farming practices, such as monocropping and land clearing for farm expansion.

To mitigate the looming setbacks, Alteia will provide Technoserve with a turnkey digital solution to visualize drone imagery of cashew orchards and extract key agronomic indicators at the tree level.

The existing components on Alteia Cloud platform that will be advantageous to the project include the data management and collaborative structure and off-the-shelf analytics such as Tree Count, Fraction of Vegetation Cover or Plant Height.

In addition, complementary modules will be specifically developed by Alteia’s data scientists and fine-tuned to fit the characteristics of cashew.

These modules will include cashew species identification, density and health evaluation as well as intercropping indicators.

Through this TechnoServe will be able to identify the areas with the highest need and target interventions and training services to reach farmers more effectively.

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“We are working hard to cover more than 1,500 cashew orchards – often no more than one hectare in size – by drone and collect good quality data that is fit for Alteia’s powerful AI algorithms.”

Christoph Weigl, TechnoServe’s Senior Technology Advisor and Project Lead in Benin

This process will be automated as far as possible to deal with the high data volume and to allow for continued plantation monitoring in the future.

“This is made possible by the Alteia architecture that is rapidly deployable in any organization. It is a matter of weeks to completely integrate our easy-to-use workflows so that they perfectly fit the analysis of cashew plantations in Benin.

“We are very happy to support TechnoServe on this project and in delivering on-the-ground impact for cashew farmers,” said said Lenaic Grignard, head of agriculture and forestry at Alteia.

By mid-2021, TechnoServe and Alteia expect to process and analyze more than 1,500 smallholder cashew plantations across the country, representing dozens of terabytes of data.

“We are among the first to deploy drones at this scale in the context of smallholder agriculture in Africa. We are working hard to cover more than 1,500 cashew orchards – often no more than one hectare in size – by drone and collect good quality data that is fit for Alteia’s powerful AI algorithms,” said Christoph Weigl, TechnoServe’s Senior Technology Advisor and Project Lead in Benin.

So far in Benin, TechnoServe has trained over 71,000 farmers in best agricultural practices such as intercropping and agroforestry management through the BeninCajù program. As a result, over 145,000 ha of cashew orchards are now under sustainable forestry practices.

Under the CaùLab program, TechnoServe will target an additional 10,000 farmers with an updated curriculum on climate-smart agriculture based on the insights generated through the collaboration with Alteia.

Meanwhile, South Africa-founded agritech start-up Aerobotics has raised US$17-million in a series-B funding round led by Naspers.

The company has developed an end-to-end solution for orchard monitoring providing farmers with data-driven insights, scout mapping and other tools to mitigate damage to crops like pest and disease infestation through a combination of satellite and drone imagery coupled with machine learning algorithms.

The series-B round was oversubscribed, seeing significant participation from Platform Investment Partners, FMO: Entrepreneurial Development Bank and Cathay AfricInvest Innovation.

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