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New tech to boost maize yields and sustainability in western Kenya

By Agency | July 15th 2020

A new 18-month project will use cutting-edge digital tools to monitor agricultural soil health conditions in western Kenya and optimise the use of fertilisers, water and carbon sequestration in maize production.  

Led by French agtech company itk, the KILIMO project’s aim is to demonstrate how satellite and modelling technologies can generate tailored, farm-level recommendations at scale.  

Satellite imaging will be used to map and track the condition of Vihiga Country’s soils through colour spectrometry, which analyses crop colour and density. This real-time information, combined with meteorological data, will be fed into itk models to determine the appropriate amounts and types of fertiliser to be applied, and at what time, to maximise both crop productivity and sustainability.  

“Technology is driving a massive transformation of African agriculture,” said Aline Bsaibes, Director General of itk. “What we learn from the KILIMO project, especially regarding soil health and the carbon cycle, can then easily be scaled to other regions or countries as well as for related climate-smart agriculture initiatives.” 

Bespoke recommendations are then sent to individual farmers via SMS or voice message, ensuring that government-issued fertiliser subsidies are used efficiently. This can also reduce the scheme’s current inefficiencies as well as limiting the subsidised fertiliser black market.

The KILIMO project, which stands for “Kenyan Innovation for Low Impact Maize Production”, will track in real-time the carbon storage potential of agricultural soils as well as nitrogen and potassium levels. These technologies are already widely in use in major maize production regions around the world, including in the United States. 

“Our scientific objective with the KILIMO project is to accurately capture data on the daily carbon, water and nutrient cycles of soils,” Bsaibes added. “Our decision support tools help to improve soil health, reduce fertilizer use and increase crop yields, increasing farmers' sources of income.” 

The project is being run by itk in collaboration with Airbus Defence and Space, which will undertake the initial field measurements using satellite imaging, and academic experts of the UMR Eco&sol, along with IRD, CIRAD, GE-Data (Toulouse & Washington), and Locate-It (Nairobi). The project budget is more than €800,000. 

Itk already offers other digital and mobile tools to support African farmers in improving their maize and cotton production, through their partner E-tumba, which is well established on the African continent.  

The KILIMO project is supported by the French Ministry of Economy and Finance, which helps French companies expand the use of green technologies globally. 

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