BuIldIng a spatIal agronomy platform Is fundamental to beIng able to provIde an ultra low-cost, purely dIgItal advIsory servIce

In one of our most ambitious undertakings, iSDA has teamed up with data analytics consultancy EnvirometriX to develop a satellite soil-mapping system offering an unprecedented spatial resolution of 30 meters covering the entire African continent, in contrast to the previous standard of 250 meters. It will be the foundation of our fertilizer recommendations and agronomic advisory services, suitable for low-income smallholders who cannot afford farm-level soil tests.

Our interactive soil mapping technology is currently undergoing peer review and will be available on our website later this year.

A breakthrough In satellIte mappIng

Computer generated satellite mapping image by Tom Hengl and EnvirometriX

Over the last decade, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested tens of millions of dollars to support the production of a new generation of soil and agronomic data for Africa. A team comprising iSDA and EnvirometriX is building on this foundation to take soil mapping a giant step into the future.

Our soil mapping technology will generate soil property data equivalent to over 24 billion locations across the entire African continent. We’ve harnessed open-access remote sensing data, machine learning and geolocated soil samples, created by the AfSIS network and others, to generate predictions of over 20 soil variables. These variables include soil texture fractions; soil pH; macronutrients (e.g. soil organic carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium); six micronutrients; and electrical conductivity.

This open-access information system will be made publicly available so as to encourage agricultural businesses, governments and researchers to use more and better data in their decision-making. It will also form the foundation of iSDA’s business-to-business data platform, including delivering agronomic advisory services to agribusiness and smallholders.

Image courtesy of Tom Hengl/EnvirometriX

The data platform and onlIne servIces

African farmer standing in a green field holding a tablet device

Our interactive online tool provides visualisations of the soil data and associated prediction uncertainties. The tool also provides access for developers who wish to retrieve information based upon latitude and longitude, using an API. The entire advisory system will run on a secure cloud-based infrastructure, delivering data with very low lag times and in an easy to understand format.

As in other areas of industry and academia, soil data tends to be held in silos that make sharing difficult. One of the main aims in making our data widely accessible is to encourage others to share their datasets. That in turn will allow the creation of even more accurate maps. We have designed the mapping infrastructure with a view to making updates available within a few days in most cases.

Security and data protection are also at the heart of iSDA’s data platform. In addition to the open-access public map layers, iSDA will create custom private layers for business-to-business uses. Such private layers will draw on the open-access data layer and combine it with private datasets. This functionality will allow users to predict soil properties for geographic areas of particular interest to them.

From soIl data to agronomIc advIsory

Two scientists walking in a field at sunset holding a laptop

iSDA’s overall aim is to promote commercially sustainable business opportunities that help smallholder farmers increase their incomes. Our new data platform is a starting point, rather than the end product. In the coming months, iSDA will be building agronomic advisory products that are useful for agribusinesses and smallholder farmers across Africa. These products will include crop suitability maps, based on fertility capability classification, or FCC mapping, as well as a fertilizer model that will provide crop- and site-specific recommendations for locations across Africa.

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