Improving agricultural productivity and promoting more environmentally friendly farming practices are the key goals of CajùLab, a new pioneering project launched by TechnoServe in Benin with financial support from the Wehubit programme of Enabel.
CajùLab uses drones to map cashew fields and collect data that once analysed give precious information on plants health and help elaborate best practices to improve crop productivity.
Data processing and analysis requires sophisticated software tools and computing capacity (© TechnoServe)
CajùLab’s drone mapping activities are performed in close collaboration with the cashew producers and follow a step by step process.The different phases including an information session to the producers, the drone calibration and the control station set up, the data collection during the flight and the data processing afterwards is explained in detail below.
“A drone gives us the possibility to see the invisible, as if we had eyes in the sky. It can detect all the problems related to the plantations. Thanks to this technology we can achieve results that we couldn’t imagine before.” says Ouriel Hountondji, chief drone operator at AtlasGIS, the drone company that supports and cooperates with TechnoServe's CajùLab project for all the technical aspects of the technology.
Information session with the cashew farmers
CajùLab technicians and experts organise an in-person meeting with the cashew producers of a specific region/department before the drone flies. The session aims at explaining in detail what drone mapping in agriculture and its benefits are.
They then show the different types of drones to the farmers, who can ask questions and share details about the challenges that they are facing in their job.
Sensibilization meetings are held to accustom producers to the drones that are being used
to map their plantations (© TechnoServe)
The farmers are asked to give some personal information and information about their plantations, such as age, name, size of the field, etc. These data are essential to accurately program the drone and prepare it for the flight.
Data points are collected from each plantation and producer to accurately program the drone
and its journey (© TechnoServe)
Control station set up
The CajùLab team and pilots take the equipments to the plantation to set up the ground control station, from which the pilot will be able to monitor the live video streams coming from the flying drone.
The drone is assembled, and the flight control station is set up with electricity being
supplied by a generator (© TechnoServe)
Sensor calibration is necessary to ensure drones accuracy. Drones have many different sensors working to maintain flight efficiency. It’s very important for the pilot to control if these sensors have accurate measurements to ensure safely drones flight.
Before take-off, the drone needs to be calibrated to assure precise navigation
and uniform image collection (© TechnoServe)
Fixed-wing drones require an external force to take off, such as a hand-throw; this is usually performed by a member of the technical team.
The co-pilot supports the fixed-wing during take-off by pushing it into the air (© TechnoServe)
Supervision of the flight
The pilot is constantly monitoring, on the computer, the journey that the drone is taking, and the live video stream that is being recorded.
The drone pilot keeps an eye on the drone's flight path and its technical parameters
throughout the otherwise automated flight (© TechnoServe)
Once all the required mapping has been done and the flight is over, the drone autonomously comes back to the ground station and safely lands onto the soil.
Landing requires enough space for the drone to land safely (© TechnoServe)
Data processing is a key step of the drone mapping process. Without an accurate analysis, all the data collected are of no use. This step usually happens in the office, and it is performed using sophisticated data processing software. The results of the analysis give specific details about a single plantation: from the number of cashew trees on it, to the health conditions of its soil, the distance between each plant, the status of flowering and fruiting, and much more.
The flight demonstration left the farmers astonished. Many of them had never seen a drone before and had never imagined that such technology could come to Benin and to their plantation.
“Thanks to what CajùLab taught us and to its drone technology, we will be able to improve our practices and increase our productivity”, says Akon Abel, cashew farmer’s representative of the town of Biguina Akpassa in northern Benin.