To grow cashew production, the Government of Benin supports nurseries to produce a target total of 2 million cashew seedlings per year. Each of these trees has the potential to grow to a mature cashew tree. It can provide a farming family with income. Besides that, a cashew tree is extremely efficient in pulling CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in its stem, branches and roots. In fact, in its first ten years, a single cashew tree can absorb and store more than 600kg of CO2, helping regulate our planet’s climate. But how do we find the right place for those 2 million seedlings to be planted, where they have enough space to grow healthily and provide farmers with good yields?
TechnoServe visiting nurseries in central Benin. Nursery managers are the entrepreneurs who run nurseries as their business, selling seedlings to cashew farmers. ©technoserve
One key element to finding the right spot for all those seedlings is connecting farmers to nurseries. Many cashew farmers across Benin currently lack access to young, healthy and above all high-performing cashew varieties. While the availability of seedlings is not only limited by number, farmers also lack information on the whereabouts of nurseries, while nurseries often equally struggle to find farmers who demand plants at the right time of the year.
Mapping cashew growing regions by drone can provide insights on which farmers are in need of fresh seedlings to replace old trees or intensify their plantations. ©technoserve
The drone and satellite mapping tools developed by CajùLab are designed to address that challenge among others. Together with Alteia, CajùLab has optimized 3 identification algorithms that can help identify sparsely planted cashew plantations. For instance, the CajùLab project has mapped more than 1.900 cashew plantations by drone across Benin. Analysing the collected high resolution drone imagery, the developed AI algorithms then counted and marked more than 180.000 cashew trees on these plantations down to centimeter precision. As a result, this analysis predicts that the average tree density on the mapped cashew plantations is around 60 per hectare, leaving enough space for the sustainable intensification of cashew cultivation on those plantations. Enough space, indeed, for farmers to grow their income and sequester more CO2.
Alteia’s AI engines can count trees, measure the distance between them and identify each tree's canopy. Visualizing this data guides them on where more cashew trees can be planted on plantations. ©technoserve
This is only one of several potential areas where the technologies developed by the CajùLab project will support cashew farmers in Benin. TechnoServe, through its partner program BeninCajù, is working across the cashew value chain to help establish nurseries across the country, connect them to farmers and ultimately connect farmers to the market. This is how, they can start planting more small cashew seedlings in the right places, so that eventually the cashew nuts that reach consumers globally help us tackle climate change.
TechnoServe is active across the cashew value chain, helping farmers form cooperatives, like here in Copargo in northern Benin. The CajùLab team was on the ground to make the link between technology development and field work. ©technoserve