Mapping the Senegalese salt lands
The team at Senegal Flying Labs was in a quandary.
They had just secured an exciting new contract to map the salt lands of Sénégal and wanted to waste no time getting down to work. The project aims to provide local authorities and their partners with the tools and information they need to make informed decisions on agricultural development.
One of the areas that needed mapping was the Community of Loul Sesséne, located in the district of Fimela in the Department of Fatick to the South West of Senegal. It covers an area of 32,800 hectares and shares borders with the villages of Tattaguine to the north, Djilasse to the south, Diouroup, to the east and Nguéniene in the Department of Mbour to the west.
A drone mapping of the area would provide the local authorities and their partners with tools to aid decision making and action. The drone team at Senegal Flying Labs had recommended a methodology that consisted processing images collected by drones throughout March and April 2020; a period that coincides with the maximum accumulation of salts on the ground surface.
The deliverables dictated to the acquisition of maps with an accurate calculation of the area occupied by salt using mapping software. The maps comprised an orthomosaic image of the area; a map of the land-use units; a map of the spatial distribution of the salt land, a Digital Terrain Model map to show the location of the land in relation to the altitude and to guide the control strategies and production of statistical data of the land-use units and the area invaded by the salt tongue.
The team would carry out the task in four phases – equipment preparation, mission planning, return to the field, and data collection.
For the new project, the Senegal Flying labs wanted to flaunt their new baby – a SenseFly eBee drone they had been meaning to purchase for professional mapping missions for some time. With the drone now in place, all the team needed was training on how to use the drone, and then everything would be good to go.
But nobody remembered to alert COVID-19 pandemic of their plans.
Overnight, everything came to a literal standstill. Borders were shut, and airlines grounded. At first, the team waited the situation out, hoping like everybody else all over the world that the global pandemic would blow over soon and everything would be back to normal. Sadly, they were wrong. The whole world was wrong when it came to Coronavirus. Barring massive and drastic global measures, or the development of a vaccine, the pandemic will be with us for some time yet, and this fact soon dawned on the Senegal Flying Labs team, who realised they had to find a way to get training on their new fixed wing drone; else the salt fields of the Loul Sessene community would go unmapped.
As it became clear that life would not be returning to normal anytime soon, Sénégal Flying Labs reached out to their counterparts at Tanzania Flying Labs and WeRobotics to try something completely new: remote drone-training from scratch.
A training comprising Tanzania Flying Labs’ head pilot and trainer, Yussuf Said Yussuf from and Klaudyna ‘Kaja’ Wrochna, the Drone and Data Systems Specialist from WeRobotics was cobbled up to fill in Tiamiyou Radji and his colleagues in Senegal on the basics. Yussuf has been flying eBees for years and training others on eBee platforms for years – but he had not had his hands on Sensefly’s new eBee X yet. That’s where Kaja came in; he had received training from the manufacturer on the new drone, and was now ready to share his expertise over the internet.
Together, Yussuf and Kaja walked their Senegalese students on the theoretical and practical aspects on the new drone, which culminated in two rounds of test flights before Yussuf declared the training exercise a success.
The Senegal team then proceeded to their scheduled tasks, and have already carried out multiple eBee X flights to map out the salt lands in the commune of Loul Sessène.
The project continues apace.