Cranfield University in the UK has partnered with Colombian banana exporter Tecbaco to improve smallholders’ banana irrigation management practices through a new mobile app.
The 18-month project, in collaboration with the company’s social foundation Fundeban, will develop and test a new irrigation scheduling service for growers, collecting images and data from a network of weather stations and soil moisture sensors.
The app will support in-field decision-making on irrigation to improve water management and crop productivity.
Professors Andrew Thompson and Jerry Knox from Cranfield will be combining their expertise in plant physiology, irrigation engineering and agricultural water management to develop the tool, working closely with business partners in the UK and Colombia.
The project will focus on the post-conflict Magdalena region of Colombia, helping female smallholders to increase productivity, reduce nutrient losses due to excessive irrigation, and thereby improve rural livelihoods.
In such a harsh and demanding environment, the key will be developing a tool that is both intuitively easy for the growers to use and underpinned by robust science.
The longer-term plan is to extend the scheduling advice at low cost to a much wider group of farmers in the region to increase export revenues from bananas and translate the knowledge for application into other high-value commodity export sectors.
Knox said: “This is another example of Cranfield combining its international strengths in soil, plant and irrigation science to support local partners in increasing agricultural productivity and under-pinning socio-economic development – implemented through a focused programme of applied research for business benefit.”
Banana cultivation is confined to the tropics and sub-tropics, but a significant proportion of the crop consumed in the UK is now sourced from Colombia. The EU constitutes the largest market for Colombian bananas, receiving over three quarters (76 per cent) of its national exports.
Funded by Innovate UK, Cranfield experts will be working with Climate Edge and Environment Systsems, which specialise in climate services and environmental monitoring.
The project is one of seven recently funded through the Colombian Prosperity Fund Programme implemented by Innovate UK and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), with coffee, cocoa and tilapia the focus of the other projects.