Benin aims to more than double its production of cashew nuts by 2021. Digital technology can help ensure that this growth supports biodiversity and improves the resilience of small farmers through the use of climate-smart practices.
Cashew nuts is the second-largest export crop in Benin. The CajuLab project of TechnoServe aims to allow farmers
to simultaneously maximise productivity and environmental benefits from cashew crop. © TechnoServe
The increase in world demand for cashews has equally led to increased interest in the crop among farmers in Benin. The Beninese government recently set the goal of producing 300,000 tons/year by 2021. To accomplish this, the government forecasts that the cultivated area must increase to 60,000 hectares. Although productivity goals are important, it’s essential to note that if the wrong strategy is adopted by the cashew sector, the growth in production may not generate net environmental benefits and could reduce biodiversity and have a negative impact on marginalised populations. It is therefore essential that stakeholders in the sector develop and implement policies and strategies aimed at ensuring that this increase in production is environmentally sustainable.
Climate-smart agriculture is an effective approach to achieve sustainable farming systems. At the moment little is known about the extent to which Benin’s cashew farmers use climate-smart practices or how the increase in cashew plantations has changed land management in the country in recent years.
Maximising productivity and environmental benefits with CajuLab
The CajuLab project, funded by Wehubit and implemented by TechnoServe, in collaboration with the Agence Territoriale de Développement Agricole and the National Federation of Cashew Producers of Benin (FENAPAB), works with a Beninese drone company and an international algorithm research team to harness emerging technologies like drones and machine learning in order to sustainably increase cashew production.
“The CajuLab project is welcome in this digital age. I like that it is integrated in the agricultural sector of Benin.
I would like to closely contribute to the project, so that the objectives are effectively reached by taking into account the problems we as farmers face on our farms.”
“CajuLab is a relevant project for developing a precise directory of cashew farms.
I think it can help take the Beninese agriculture a step forward in the technological field.
I hope that, at the end of the project, a reliable database on farmers’ plantations (areas, precise maps, number of trees per plantation) will exist, because currently, it does not.”
Drones equipped with advanced imaging technology will be used to carry out the aerial mapping of cashew farms. Based on this mapping, an algorithm automates the classification of cashew trees, the evaluation of the state of health of the plantations, the agricultural practices adopted by the farmers, the state of the soil, etc. This information will improve the targeting of farmers and help determine the content of training modules given to farmers to promote climate-smart farming techniques. The project will facilitate the training of about 10,000 farmers on Climate Smart Agriculture. The training package will be shared with partners, so that it can continue to drive impact after the programme’s close.
Collaborating with farmers for a sustainable production
TechnoServe presented the CajuLab project in Parakou (North of Benin) to cashew farmers and partner organisations in the sector, including the Agence Territoriale de Développement Agricole, the National Federation of Cashew Producers of Benin and its branches, and the National Federation of Certified Cashew Nurserymen of Benin.
As part of the project presentation workshop, a farm was visited. The farm of Sabiwo TABE, presented below, clearly illustrates the merits of the CajuLab project.
Sabiwo Tabe is a cashew farmer in the village of Gounin in Parakou (North Benin) and owns a 3-hectare cashew farm that was planted 15 years ago. When the cashew trees were planted, Mr Tabe did not follow the recommended spacing guidelines, because he had not received training on good agricultural practices. Fifteen years later, he declared that he still does not have the knowledge necessary to take good care of his farm and obtain satisfactory results. As a result, the farm is in poor health (there is a yellowish colour to the plants) and the cashew trees are intermingled and produce less. In addition, Mr Tabe does not know how many cashew trees are on his farm. Speaking of the expected results of the CajuLab project, he says:
"The CajuLab project will allow me to increase my yields and production and will motivate me to take better care of my farm in the future."
Mr. Tabe providing information on his cashew farm during a field visit on December 5, 2019. © TechnoServe
The CajuLab project will thus allow many farmers like Mr Tabe to be better targeted, better trained by taking into account their real needs, which will allow them to increase their production sustainably.
The next step of the project is to start aerial drone collection activities in the cashew plots of the targeted farmers. All the activities will be implemented in partnership with the farmers. Exchanging knowledge and ideas with them is key to successfully achieving the results of the project.