Find and Assess with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture

Julius Adewopo is an Associate Geospatial Data Scientist at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, or IITA. Driven by the ambition to transform agriculture in Africa, IITA is focused on science-driven solutions for the improvement of agriculture and related food value chains.

LVC: What is it that interests you about drones?

Julius Adewopo: Coming from a soil science background, I saw GIS, or geographic information systems, as a versatile tool that can connect the dots between managing natural resources and the needs of people in different places. In remote, smallholder farms, people don’t have the technology to be able to advance their production system. I commenced work at IITA at a time when the application of drone technology in agriculture was starting to gain traction, so we started to test drone images as an alternative to satellite-derived imagery to quickly and rapidly collect agronomic information about smallholder maize farms. We used the vegetation indices derived from the UAV-acquired imageries as indicators of maize health and translated this as proxies for assessment of grain-yield variability. We see strong evidence that rapid acquisition of data with drones, followed by processing and analysis of that data, could lead to actionable information for smallhold farmers. This was exciting for our team because it was a new attempt to deploy drones for multi-locational application in smallholder maize-based systems in sub-Saharan Africa.

LVC: What’s the potential for drones in East Africa?
Julius Adewopo:: We haven’t even started to scratch the surface with drones and their applications for solving problems in smallholder farming systems. One of the most rapidly advancing frontiers is in the assessment of plant health, as at present many farmers are not quite informed about how they could reduce the risk of loss to disease through early drone surveillance. Similarly, farmers don’t have the tools to immediately make important decisions, such as where to apply fertilizers to optimize their production goals relative to the crops planted. There’s so much opportunity to expand the application of drones in African agriculture. The other application, which is also related to my current interest, is the use of drones for detecting and assessing the severity of plant disease. With several crops, including bananas, soybeans or cassava, some disease symptoms are hard to detect with the naked eye within a few days of an outbreak. However, some symptoms such as changes in leaf configuration (structural), greenness (spectral), or the amount of water in the stem are signals that can be picked up by drone sensors. This data will empower the farmer to make a timely decision on remedy before the damage becomes severe and affects the entire farm.

Some of these ideas will be explored further in the Lake Victoria Challenge FIND AND ASSESS category in 2019. Find out more with our video.

Learn about IITA and its mission to transform African agriculture on their website.