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Nurturing Africa’s Digital Revolution for Agriculture

Started in November 2017, NADiRA – Nurturing Africa’s Digital Revolution for Agriculture – is an innovation action to develop the use of Earth Observation (EO) in contractual smallholder agriculture, improving risk management, efficiency, productivity, financial security and inclusive welfare benefits for all value chain stakeholders.

Africa is undergoing a transformative change, driven by youth, urbanization and information technology. This social and economic revolution harbors massive pent-up demand for sustainable digital solutions to realize Africa’s potential for quality food, feed and fuel, for domestic consumption and export on world markets. NADiRA harnesses recent improvements in the resolution, density, continuity and inter-calibration of EO missions to mainstream the use of COPERNICUS, other EO products and IoT technologies inside an advanced digital value chain heralded by the agCelerant™ agricultural business orchestrator.

Project Objectives

The NADiRA project, within the scope of the H2020 action, has five major objectives.

  1. Develop and integrate EO and IoT data sources into agCelerant in order to achieve operational cost reductions in the market qualification, credit and insurance products and assessment of the volume and quality of the farm production.
  2. Demonstrate the commercial and financial viability of the agCelerant offer, enhanced by EO, with 4 large scale pilots, operated during 2 crop seasons and targeting 4 types of crops (rice, maize, peanut and sorghum), several production systems and agricultural management practices.
  3. Tune the business model as conceived and implemented in the agCelerant platform for fitness-for-purpose and robustness by industrializing the EO-derived services and their delivery.
  4. Develop the business strategy to become with agCelerant the leader of the digital orchestration of the smallholders value chain in contractual agriculture in Africa.
  5. Disseminate the results of NADiRA, coupled with agCelerant, and commercialize its outcome in Africa, Europe and Asia.

Service development

The NADiRA consortium developed the processing chains required for satellite augmented detection of plot-level agronomic practices (e.g. plowing, flooding, harvesting), monitoring of crop response, and – with the support of novel, low-cost sensor networks and multi-model simulations – crop yield forecasting.

Corresponding workflows were connected into MANOBI’s agCelerant™ value chain orchestrator, which links agricultural smallholders to banks, insurance, input suppliers and agro-industry to cover the needs of the entire agricultural value chain continuum.

Host software platform

Simultaneously, the consortium developed a Geospatial Exploitation software Platform (GEP), capitalizing on technologies and expertise developed with the European Space Agency during the last decade. Delivered in 2019 as a pre-operational capability, implemented on Google Cloud, the GEP uses state of the art technology to organize, discover, collect and manage large quantities of geo-referenced data.

Its interfacing with agCelerant™ makes it the world’s first fully automated processing system providing concurrent detection of field-level agricultural events, monitoring of crop response, and production forecasts based on combined field and EO data streams, which are both essential for operational exploitation and scalability, particularly in heterogeneous smallholder agriculture.

Deployment of the pilots

The consortium deployed three pilots to monitor the crop seasons in 2018 and 2019 in Senegal for rice and groundnut and in Nigeria for sorghum. The pilots were deployed at the scale of 2.500 hectares for rice, 250 hectares for groundnut and 1.600 hectares for sorghum.

Despite this limited scale, the pilots have highlighted challenges arising from the concrete experience on the field, especially in the context of the smallholders’ agriculture: quality of field data, interpretation of the outcome of EO processing, sensitivity of the mechanistic crop models to the variability of field input data. The simultaneous performance of innovation and pilot deployment helped the consortium to assess the relevance of the developed services and to adjust and tune the algorithms as well as the interpretation and exploitation of the service products.

In the early stage of pilot deployment, agCelerantTM implemented automatic consistency checks of field data, based on Artificial Intelligence techniques, to solve the critical issue of data quality in field data streams.

The rice pilot in Senegal helped testing the operational preparedness of the business model on a limited scale (190 farmers), based on an agCelerantTM contract linking rice producers with a microfinance institution, an insurer and an industrial buyer.

The analysis of information produced in the successive pilots by the different sources of data (EO, IoT, Mobile2web, crop models) showed that no single source is reliable enough to be “served” individually to the stakeholders in the value chain. The outstanding value of the System must be derived from the “educated” interpretation of instantaneously available information by local agents.

Overall, the lessons learned from these pilots are extremely useful to improve the operational system prior to its first use in the upcoming business contracts.

Marketing of the future solution

MANOBI undertook early outreach actions to market agCelerantTM as a vehicle for the numerous innovations developed in the framework of NADiRA. Key partners from several African countries expressed strong interest in the orchestration of smallholder value chains development, including the Islamic Development Bank, in relation to its Regional Rice Value Chain Programme, and Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD). Several significant business opportunities were subsequently developed in 2019, which represent a positive input, based on a sound multi-scale analysis of market conditions, towards a viable business plan for NADiRA and the confirmation of NADiRA’s first commercial market by 2020.

Progress beyond the State of the Art

Business model (1) encompassing the entire agricultural value chain + (2) embedding EO and modelling into the mobile2web platform

Enabling COPERNICUS EO satellites to operate at parcel level

Cheap recyclable rain gauges, allowing its widespread use for rainfall data collection

Generic broker software platform for the operational provision of EO-based services, built with the latest cloud technologies and enabling access to potentially all EO missions in the World

Impact and societal implications

The successful replication all over Africa of the solution proposed by NADiRA with agCelerant is expected to have a direct socio-economic as well as an indirect political impact, bringing benefit to strategic partnerships between Africa and Europe. 

The main anticipated socio-economic impacts consist in increased agricultural productivity by 15%, improved food security and development of job opportunities for young people in farming, trading, coaching, thus helping to control youth unemployment and tighten the agro-cultural fabric in a potentially volatile societal context. 

The project is also expected to contribute to the objectives of the Strategic African Union – European Union (AU-EU) Partnership, more specifically in Area 3 (Human Development) and Area 4 (Sustainable and inclusive development and growth), thus improving local livelihood and reducing migration pressures. NADiRA directly contributes to the achievement of five of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The project will also create innovation capacity, as the digital platform created by NADiRA will be open to scientists and service developers. Thanks to the organization put in place, the increasing wealth of data and the tools made available by the platform, they will be able to develop their own capacities – at  both pre-competitive and competitive stages – initially in  agriculture and, potentially, in a large range of thematic domains such as forestry, water management, urban and rural planning, environment monitoring.

About the NADiRA consortium

NADiRA was jointly conceived by SpaceBel – a leading Space company in Europe – and Manobi – the African pioneer in value chain orchestration covering the agriculture, water, artisan fisheries, sanitation and local governance sectors. Both key actors are leading an international consortium of reputable organizations comprising SwissRe (Switzerland), the University of Liège (Belgium), Viveris Technologies (France), ICRISAT (Nigeria) and the EUGENIUS association (France). The Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) CGIAR Research Program provides additional leverage to NADiRA partners in countries.

The NADiRA project receives funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grand agreement No 776309.