The Kingdom of Eswatini relies on pre-planting and postharvest assessments to determine crop production across the country. The annual national agricultural survey which aims to provide information on cropped area and end of season yield through questionnaires and field surveys is not consistently conducted due to resource and technology constraints. In implementing these activities, the country lacks continuous crop growth monitoring and assessment tools, and technologies for quick and early detection of undesirable threats and occurrence of risks and hazards to food security.
With Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) technology complemented by satellite data, it is expected that such assessments can be done cost-effectively and during any phase of crop growth to deliver timely interventions. The National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), as the principal institution for disaster management, has teamed up with other agencies that support food security assessments in the country to enhance their capacity to use cost-effective tools and innovations that can aid these assessments and early warning systems. To this end, NDMA has already purchased a pair of drones. However, the agency needs to build its financial and technical capacity with UAV technology and remote sensing to undertake crop monitoring, vulnerability assessments and provide timely early warning information to farmers. It also faces a financial barrier towards acquiring further equipment, high resolution satellite imagery and capacity building, for which this technical assistance will also build the country's readiness to seek Green Climate Fund (GCF) funding.
Figure 1: Wiingtra one drone flying over a maize field
Through the Nationally Determined Entity (NDE)—the Department of Meteorology--, the country requested Technical Assistance through the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) to strengthen the capacity of NDMA and other allied agencies in the piloting and consequently, the establishment of an operational monitoring system that uses UAV and satellite data across the country to enhance climate resilience. This Technical Assistance is being implemented by the national agencies with technical leadership of the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) which is an intergovernmental organization that promotes and builds capacity on the use of earth observations and GIS based mapping in the eastern and southern African region. RCMRD is an inter-governmental organization with 20 Member States in the Eastern and Southern Africa, including the Kingdom of Eswatini. It has a long-standing, and proven expertise in conducting the necessary research and training related to natural resource assessments in Africa using surveying, mapping, remote sensing, UAV technology and GIS.
A series of activities will be implemented during the course of the Technical Assistance but those build on successful data collection using drones and satellites. In this regard, a field data collection exercise was undertaken in Eswatini in order to collect drone imagery that would assist in agricultural vulnerability assessments with a focus on crop health monitoring and yield forecasting. A team led by Mr. Stephen Sande, a Technical expert and Mr. Fredrick Onyango, a Photogrammetrist covered four regions (Sidzakeni, Mpolonjeni, Sigangeni and Gege) collecting drone imagery using two types of drones that had the capability to image large areas, collecting multispectral images that will be used to develop a case study that demonstrates the ability of these drones in monitoring crop growth. The team was also supported by the Kenya Red Cross Society who have experience operating drones in these types of assessments.
Before embarking on the field data collection, the team paid a courtesy call to the CEO of NDMA Mr. Russel Dlamini and Secretary General of the Baphalali Eswatini Red Cross Society to brief them on the mission, Mr Danger Nhlabatsi. Further planning meetings were held with NDMA technical staff during which site selection and field logistics were streamlined.
Figure 2: Planning meeting with NDMA technical staff led by Mr, Eric Siyama
Figure 3: Snippet of RGB image from DJI Phantom 4 drone
Further, DJI Phantom 4 drone for NDMA was used to image a sub-set of the area above in three spectral bands totalling to 5.10 Kilometres squared.
Figure 4: Snippet of flight progress from the radio controller unit of a DJI Phantom 4 drone.
Subsequent activities following the field work will involve processing of the imagery and merging it with satellite indicators of crop health monitoring including rainfall, temperature, soil moisture, evapotranspiration and vegetation conditions. RCMRD uses a co-development approach to provide on-the-job capacity building to its users as a way of improving post-training outcomes. The case study development will follow this approach, culminating in a national level training workshop that will also mark the end of the piloting phase and a transition to scale-up of the interventions across the country.
Figure 5: Coverage of the Data Collection Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the Kingdom of Eswatini by a local newspaper