The Makerere component: citizens observations for crops & atmospheric physics.

Makerere University through the Department of Zoology, Entomology, and Fisheries Sciences (ZEFS), College of Natural Sciences, is part of the TWIGA consortium. The two components that Makerere will focus on are: Citizens observations of crops and Atmospheric physics. For the first blog, we will focus on the Citizens observations of crops.

Citizens observations of crops

The first, led by Prof. John Kaddu, is contributing to the citizens’ observations of crops, and how the effects of weather are impacting crop health. Drones will be used to monitor crop health in combination with moisture sensors and will look at the possibilities of predicting and mitigating these harsh weather conditions.

The citizen’s observation is enlisting the services of the end-users (the farmers) themselves in observing the growth and health of their crops. Farmers themselves observe stress in the crops, like:   

– Major changes being noticed on the crop (Changes on the leaf, the stem, and the fruiting (where applicable);

– Has the target leaf fallen off, if yes date of defoliation?

– Leaf size relative to normal healthy leaf sizes, leaf shapes etc;

– Leaf age relative to other leaves on the plant (oldest, old, medium, young, and very young);

– Position of leaf on the plant. Top, middle and low;

– Leaf color. This is based on the farmer’s experience, either normal green, light, very light, yellow, brown, purplish etc;

– Presence or absence of Lesions or spots: Description of lesion spot (whether round, rectangular, strips, circular, angular, irregular, grey, dark brown, reddish, brown, sunken, watery, punched hole, grey middle but brown surrounding etc);

– Estimated percentage of leaf covered with lesions/ spots;

– Shape of spots or lesions;

– Approximate average size of spots in millimeters.

New technologies such as the UAV or drones with the help of its sensors and cameras can provide good and with further research and development excellent measurement of plant stress and stress factors, the soil moisture sensors will give an actual representation of the available water for the plant. Since a substantial amount of the above ground stress symptoms are a result of below ground factors (especially water stress) above ground stress symptoms are sometimes either exuberated or confused with water stress effects, therefore employing both tools provides a way to eliminate this confusion and provide more accurate knowledge of plant stress factors.

The combination of the two technologies together with advanced computer software and modeling will provide more accurate and specific answers to a farmer’s needs:

The potential benefits of this technology combination can be enormous;

– To the scientist; a lot of work remains in research to make these tools even better and more accurate. Additionally, the ability to have tools that can accurately measure plant stress is of invaluable importance to any successful research in plant health;

– To the farmer, better knowledge of stress and its resultant outcome will help him/her activate timely mitigation measures and in real time estimate his potential yields. This will help him plan and where necessary acquire credit, decide on control measures and even predict profits;

– To the input dealer; the technologies provide an opportunity for farmer and input dealer platforms, helping the input dealer to get integrated more into the actual farming system by providing timely inputs while at the same time being assured of payments/ returns since he is assured of the farm outputs at the end of the season;

– To the produce buyers; the technology provides a potential for joining a platform which includes the input dealer and farmer. In this way, the produce buyer can be assured of the product and therefore can directly support the farmer in input purchases and other credit;

– Policymakers can also use results from large scale deployment of the above technologies to predict yield, epidemics etc and guide decision making;

– Basically, the potential benefits of the technology span the whole value chain and boundary partners.

Within one year, preliminary results, especially on the relationships of plant stress factors or environmental conditions and yields (soil moisture and weather conditions), will be available.