African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI) in July released its first field test version of the Akilimo, an ingenious system developed to provide site-specific recommendations depending on farmers’ needs and cropping objectives.
The name Akilimo which translates to smart agriculture is a coinage from two Swahili words, Akili meaning Smart/Intelligent and Kilimo meaning Agriculture. Created over a three to four-year research and development period and process, the mobile enabled technology offers decision support system in paper and application format. These will be used by extension agents to help cassava farmers in Nigeria and Tanzania optimize their productivity and income from cassava growing.
ACAI is a 5-year project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to increase the availability of appropriate and affordable technologies to sustainably improve cassava productivity in the short- and long-term.
The objectives of the ACAI project were pegged around addressing the needs expressed by key players in the cassava value chain in Nigeria and Tanzania. In Nigeria, ACAI is partnering with SASAKAWA Global 2000, Notore Chemicals limited, Psaltry International, Oyo State Cassava Growers Association, OYSCGA, CAVA II project and 2Scale project. In Tanzania ACAI is partnering with Minjingu Fertilizer, FJS Africa Starch, Best Cassava Project by MEDA, Farm Concern International and Yara.
Akilimo decision support system encompasses the infrastructure supporting the data curating, data analysis and information output.
The Akilimo correlates a series of information input by a farmer or extension agent with data calculations in the prediction engine in the background of the tool to output tailored advice that is specific to that particular farmer. The tool has been fashioned to provide advice on fertilizer application depending on location and cropping system, the best planting practices and weed control, intercropping, improving the quality of cassava root starch and how to maintain a constant supply of cassava root to processing industries throughout the year.
ACAI project leader, Dr Pieter Pypers while speaking on progress made so far by Akilimo describes it as a very versatile tool.
“We have a data-intensive prediction engine in the background co-relating a number of variables that influence the crop performance which then gives recommendation with high accuracy on sophisticated apps as well as simple printed paper,” Dr. Pypers stated.
Recommendations from Akilimo could be delivered to farmers through a smartphone application, printed maps and recommendation tables (paper-based tools), Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) format. The initial field test version released only features the mobile application and the paper-based tool while the prediction engine is being calibrated for other formats.
At the heart of the Akilimo prediction engine is the culmination of the precision research examining several factors that determine the cassava crop nutrient uptake, growth, root yield and the quality of the starch in the roots. To set up the prediction engine, ACAI integrates results from field trials with various crop models to evaluate cassava response under varying environmental conditions as well as nutrient supply.
Besides the tailored fertilizer recommendation, the tool will also be used to advise farmers land preparation methods, weed management, planting densities and fertilizer application for intercropped cassava fields as well as planting and harvest dates for high cassava root starch quality and sustainable raw material supply.
Akilimo is a highly interactive tool requiring the user to provide a set on the information in the form of responses to improve the accuracy of the recommendations. The user, in this case, a farmer, will be required to give their accurate GPS location, cropping system, current yield and investment capacity. Akilimo will predict the yield of cassava root and compare with the net income for the farmer from the sale of the roots to provide recommendations that help the farmer optimize his/her income.
The development of the Akilimo tool was a collaborative process between IITA scientist and partners from various sectors of the Cassava value chain in Nigeria and Tanzania. At the research level, IITA collaborated with CIAT, CABI, ICRAF, Wageningen University, University of Florida, the Federal University of Agriculture in Abeokuta, Nigeria, Tanzania Institute of Agricultural Research, National Root Crops Research Institute Nigeria and Katholik University of Leuven.