Studying and sharing the best practices towards “bottom up” approaches to improving agriculture

Photo credit: CGIAR-WLE

Ahmed sets up his satellite imaging equipment in the field

Photo Credit: Faseeh Shams

The region’s best farmer…and an eye in space can prove it!

New innovations are revolutionizing the measurement of water productivity

By James Clarke

Farmer Ahmed may not know it yet, but he is a water productivity champion. Satellites scanning the Doukkalla Irrigation Scheme in Morocco have identified his fields as being the most productive in the area – up to 3 times the crop yield of his neighbors for a similar amount of water used.

So what is he doing right?

At this point, explained Wim Bastiaanssen of UNESCO-IHE, speaking at the session Agricultural water productivity; Can it be monitored?, part of this year’s Stockholm World Water Week, we don’t really know. The power of real-time satellite imaging has allowed researchers to single out such successful farms, but extension workers would need to pay Ahmed a visit to find out why he does so well. Being able to identify such productive individuals, enthuses Bastiaanssen, opens up new possibilities for learning and sharing.

In development jargon, Farmer Ahmed is a “positive deviant” – an individual who seems to be getting it right, without necessarily getting direct assistance from development professionals. The concept originally arose in public health, but now agriculture wants in on the act. Studying and sharing the best practices of such people has been part of a growing trend towards “bottom up” approaches to improving agriculture.

“Farmers look to their neighbors to measure their performance,” said session convener, Jopp Hoogeeven of FAO, so agriculturists and water managers need to take note.

Targeted Technology

To assess water productivity (WP) at field level in this way, satellites measure evapo-transpiration – the rate at which plants are growing and emitting water into the atmosphere. It is a technique that is fast developing and provides a hitherto unattainable degree accuracy on how plants are performing, and where and when they are doing so. This approach will also be important for measuring the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals relating to water and sustainable agriculture.

The session overall reflected on the huge possibilities that modern remote sensing and big data is now opening up for improving WP.

Read the full article: CGIAR-WLE


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.