Mozambique launch drone pilot project for cashew production

The Mozambican government has found itself with an interesting problem.

For years, the government and stakeholders in the cashew farming industry have been trying to enumerate the exact numbers of cashew farmers and cashew trees in active production in the country – but the sheer size of the country of Mozambique and the remoteness of large parts of the country has rendered the cashew census project ineffective at the moment.

Faced with this plight, the players have decided to follow Benin’s example; and call in the drones.

The Almond Institute of Mozambique (IAM), which is charged with development in cashew production (through operations that include selection and distribution of cashew plants and the control of diseases and pests in all cashew-producing provinces of Mozambique) has partnered Nitidae, a non-profit organisation that works to preserve forests, strengthen agricultural and energy value chains; to rectify the annual disparities between expected domestic cashew production and the underwhelming reality as shown by statistics.

The two parties are convinced that there is way more cashew nut harvested in the country than the statistics reveal. “Accurate assessment of production in the country remains a significant challenge for IAM and value chain actors,” Nitidae said in a statement. “Every year, there are growing disparities between estimated domestic production and production confirmed by statistics from the cashew subsector (quantities processed, exported, etc.). It is clear that informal domestic consumption or illegal export of cashew nuts to, among other destinations, Tanzania, can constitute a significant part of this production, which is, difficult to estimate.”

According to the MozaCaju Project, sandy soils and temperate climate of northern Mozambique create the perfect growing conditions for cashew trees in Mozambique, which has more than 32 million cashew trees; nearly 70 percent of which are located in the country’s “cashew belt” that cuts across the northern provinces of Nampula, Zambezia, and Cabo Delgado. 

With the proper attention and care of the trees, MozaCaju says, average yields can be eleven kilograms of raw cashew nut per tree per year, and the productive lifespan of a tree can reach upwards of 50 years.

Sadly, production has been steadily declining in recent years. Cashew trees destroyed by successive cyclone disasters have not been replaced, while old ones have since stopped producing. These challenges have seen Mozambique plummeting from its 2013 high of being the eighth biggest cashew nut producer in the world (and second in Africa, among traditional giants like Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Tanzania and Guinea-Bissau) to lower echelons that have reflected the bad turn of fortunes for small holder farmers, who rely on their cashew trees for a livelihood.

Small wonder then, that the Nitidae and IAM project has turned to drone technology. In their words;

In this context, the Support to the Cashew Value Chain in Mozambique (ACAMOZ) project is conducting a pilot test to assess the possibility of developing a rapid methodology to identify the number of cashew trees using remote sensing (drone) techniques to assess the potential production of cashew nuts in a particular area of the country.

A training mission for IAM and Nitidae technicians and engineers took place in May 2021 in the Gilé district around the Gilé National Park (PNAG), Zambézia province. This work is carried out in collaboration with the Department of Forest Engineering of Eduardo Mondlane University (UEM).

The methodology of this test study is based on the analysis of correlations between the variables measured or estimated in the field at the tree scale (structure, yields, history), variables that can be extracted from aerial imagery (eg. Tree height, canopy surface) and satellite (e.g. vegetation index).

Following this launch and training mission, a field campaign of inventory of trees and drone acquisitions will be launched in August 2021, during the flowering period of cashew trees in order to collect all the necessary information. Very high-resolution satellite images (Sentinel, Planet) will also be collected in order to be able to consider mapping of orchards on a larger scale.

Nitidae Statement

Scheduled to take eight months, the pilot aims to establish a methodology for the identification and mapping of cashew trees with the use of the drone and evaluate the potential for cashew nut production; besides focussing on the dynamics of deforestation in the NMP buffer zone and providing information on potential communities that could be priorities for the development of certification of organic cashew nut production.

We wish them all the success they deserve; at least the folks in these areas will witness other types of drones in operation, besides the medical delivery birds they have been used to over recent years.


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