Using satellite data and mobile phones, an innovative project funded by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) has helped farmers in the Gezira irrigation scheme, Sudan, to more than quadruple their wheat yields while conserving water and other key inputs.
The project used satellite imagery to improve water management and crop husbandry in the Gezira irrigation scheme in Sudan, one of the largest irrigation projects in the world. Satellite images are used to provide information on crop growth, humidity, and plant nutrient needs. This information is stored online on the project’s website. From this data, specialists send SMS messages to farmers’ phones, advising the best time to irrigate crops, when to apply fertiliser and how much, and other crop husbandry guidance. Recommendations take into account the current state of the farm, the expected weather for the next five days, the date of the last irrigation and other agronomic factors.
Before farmer Ahmed Ibrahim Wakea Allah had tried the technology for himself, he was sceptical about the value of the information that he would receive from the project. But in the 2014/2015 season after the project, he harvested 12 sacks of wheat per acre, up from less than 3 sacks per acre in 2013/14. His income increased to about 80,000 Sudanese pounds (€11,900) from his 8-acre farm, compared with a loss of 8,000 Sudanese pounds (€1,190) in the previous season. Ahmed said he will not go back to cultivating wheat the way he used to before using this technology. This experience is not unique to Ahmed but all 44 participating farmers in the project increased their crop productivity, including wheat, chickpea and onion.
Addressing the project’s closing workshop on 20 May 2015 in Wad Madani, Sudan, Professor Yasir Abbas, director general of the Hydraulic Research Centre, talked about how the technology had generated interest among both farmers and administrators working in the Gezira scheme. He noted that farmers participating in the project irrigated their crops more often, but applied less water than non-participating farmers, and increased their yields by an average of 60%. Management of irrigation water is a crucial element in increasing crop productivity, he noted.
The project has increased farmers’ confidence in using information and communication technologies (ICTs) to receive extension advice, said Professor Abbas. The Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, Mr Mahmoud Hamed, also expressed support for rolling out the system more widely in the Gezira scheme, and there is interest in the approach from other irrigation schemes in Sudan.
Commenting on the success of the project, Dr Benjamin K. Addom, ICT4D programme coordinator at CTA, stated that this is just one of the many success stories featured on CTA’s recent initiative on ‘Building Viable Delivery Models for ICT4Ag’. These ‘proof of concept’ projects demonstrate how ICTs can empower smallholder farmers economically through viable models. But scaling up these ‘proof of concept’ models will require wide-ranging partnerships if millions of smallholder farmers across the developing world, like Ahmed Ibrahim Wakea Allah in Sudan, are to benefit from the potentials of new ICTs and not have to go back to their ‘old ways’ of farming.
The project was implemented in the Gezira Scheme by the Dutch company eLEAF and the Sudanese Hydraulic Research Centre, with funding from CTA.