The Ghana pilot project – to be launched in the 4th quarter of 2019 – will provide thousands of smallholders with valuable data about their farming activities.
The project team will begin by updating soil property maps for the whole country, using both private and public datasets, that will feature significantly improved resolution. Data on particular kinds of crops will then be merged with the soil maps to aid decision-making at the farm level. This service will be provided in partnership with existing Ghanaian digital agriculture service providers (D4Ag), who already provide agronomic services to farmers at scale.
The creation of improved soil maps is a crucial first step in the pilot because the maps currently in use have a resolution of only 250 meters. They were developed as part of the first phase of the AfSIS project, an initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to map the soils of the entire African continent. New technologies will allow the pilot team to create more accurate maps and generate more accurate predictions of soil properties across Ghana.
iSDA will work in conjunction with the International Soil Reference and Information Centre, or ISRIC, on the new mapping, using data sourced from the second phase of the AfSIS project, through partnerships with the International Fertilizer Development Center, or IFDC, the Ghanaian national research programs and private-sector firms.
Combining data sources will test the project team’s ability to predict the chemical and physical properties of many different soil types, despite differences in the techniques and protocols used to analyze the soil samples. For example, some will be measured using traditional wet chemistry lab techniques, others using newer spectral technology. The pilot will also take advantage of emerging technologies like machine learning and satellite imaging to make more accurate and robust predictions.
In the second stage of the pilot project, the team will assess the feasibility of combining agronomic data with the soil data analysis in a format designed to be most helpful to farmers. This type of output may include fertilizer response trials, which test how various crops and soils respond to different fertilizer compositions and concentrations. The aim is to use this data to make tailored recommendations on fertilizer use for individual farmers based upon their location and the crops they are growing. A number of analytical tools are available to help farmers. They include modelling software such as QUEFTS, to estimate the effect of fertilizer on yields for particular crops, as well as simpler decision trees that use data to help farmers with agronomic decision making during the growing season.
Stage 2 of the project will be completed in consultation with our D4Ag partners on the ground. Several of these already deliver information services to smallholder farmers on factors like market prices, weather and access to financing. They are well versed in the needs of smallholder farmers, in terms of both what data they require and how it should be presented. The final format of the message – e.g. SMS, IVR or smartphone app – will be determined with the help of these partners so as to optimize the usability of the messaging system for farmer-clients.
The project team intends to bundle iSDA’s data with existing products to provide a complete suite of services. iSDA and our D4Ag partners will integrate their data systems and use the shared information to improve learning outcomes for the partners, as well as yields and profitability for farmers.
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