Desktop research on location: soil, topography, climate, hydrology – make use of online databases
Before embarking on a field trip to the project site we will acquire as much agro-ecological information as possible from open and private subscription online sources. Some of the relevant sources include
- African soil information centrewhich has soil grids at 1km and 250m (in some area)
- World Bank's climate change data: temperature and rainfall data for a particular area
- FAO's Global Agro-Ecological Zone database on crop suitability and yield data
The information provided will enable our team to:
- Quickly get an idea on agro-ecological conditions of the potential project site to generate working hypothesis
- Pre-screen the project site against suitability criteria (e.g. for rice it is important that the land is near the water source, relatively flat and cleared)
- Plan the field trip: to obtain relevant information to confirm/refute certain hypothesis
- Once in the country, our team will also identify a metrological station closest to the site. Climate data such as rainfall, temperature throughout the year in history will be obtained to use as inputs in our project concept design.
On-site survey of terrain, water resources and soil
Preparation for field trip
- Access to the site: inform landlord so necessary access could be arranged and the local people are informed
- Guide: Representatives from landlord and local population to act as guides during the visit. These people should know the land very well and can point out e.g. location of water sources, borders of the project site
- Hand tools for soil samplings, pit digging
- Farmers: pre-arrange a meeting with local farmers to gather information on land, cultivation, rainfall etc.
The field trip is generally conducted by 2 people from our firm: Project leader and a surveyor/irrigation engineer. Our team will join the client team to travel to the site.
We will spend a couple of days at the project site(s) to gather information detailed on the left, the most important of which are:
- Water source: is the site on/near a large water source?
- Topography: is the land appears to be flat and clear?
Geo-coordinates are taken at key landmarks and the border. This will then help us to locate the site on a satellite image before the GIS analysis could be performed.
It may be important to cover a number of sites on a single field trip. This is to ensure that the best site is selected and that the trip is not wasted. In order for this to happen the client should have identified the potential sites beforehand and obtain an understanding from the landlord that should the site be suitable, formal agreement will be made to lease/acquire it.
Soil sampling, analysis and interpretation
Soil is one of the most important factors in a farming project (first is water/topography). Soil samples will be taken during the field trip however for a very large field (e.g., 5,000ha ) soil testing is only indicative as it would be prohibitively expensive and time consuming to have a very detailed soil map during the feasibility study phase. To make a soil map with even with a sample per ha then 5,000 soil samples would be required.
We will take up to 1/100ha soil samples in random locations for testing purposes. To measure soil depth, a few soil pits will also be dug. Again this information is indicative only.
The soil samples are geo-referenced and sent to a reputable lab in the country for analysis. It usually takes a couple of weeks for the results to be ready. The results are then plotted against soil texture and rice suitability charts as above:
- In the example above, most samples belong to sandy loam, loamy sand texture classes. These happen to be the dominant soil texture classes in Africa
- The example also shows that whilst the soil depth is adequate the samples are low in pH (acidic) and poor in nutrients. These are also fairly typical of soil chemical characteristics in Africa.
Socio economic and market studies
- As part of the field trip our team will also establish whether or not the crop in question (e.g. rice) is also cultivated by local farmers. It is generally a good indication if local farmers are also cultivating the crop.
- Indicative information could also be obtained in respect of the site characteristics e.g. timing of rain, incidents of flooding, birds, diseases etc.
- Availability and cost of labour can also be established during the interview.
- Quotes will be obtained for key building materials such as cement, steel as these are key inputs in the development of required infrastructure
- Likewise availability and price of key farming inputs such as fertilizers needs to be established.
- Import vs. local purchase of material and purchase vs. renting of machinery analyses will be performed to arrive at the most cost-effective option.
Concept design, volume estimation, farming inputs and labour requirements
- Technical factors: crop water requirements, soil texture, field water balance (like evapotranspiration), flooding
- Operational: Planting and harvesting duration (e.g. 30 days)
- Social: skill level, availability
Work out a concept irrigation system that include
- Water supply: gravity/lift, flow rate
- Conveyance canals
- Block and plot lay-out
- Size and shape of plots
- Water supply and drainage in block and plots
- Protective structure such as dike, emergency drainage
Estimate of volumes
- Earth work: Length of canals, bunds, road, land leveling
- Civil construction
Net plantablearea, variety requirement and soil nutrients are used to estimate the amount of fertilizer and other inputs – key farming inputs Labour requirements
Net plantablearea, number of labourrequired for operating farming machinery, assisting in the planting and harvesting on one unit of area (ha) are used to estimate labournumber and costs
Land development, farming machinery and processing equipment
Land development, farming machinery
The choice of machinery and therefore costs is important in estimating capex for the project. In recommending the equipment list, the following main criteria are used:
- Availability of labour: If labour is limited then large machinery should be used. However if labour is abundant then a combination of smaller machines and more labour might be a better solution from both costs and community engagement's point of view.
- Production techniques: If wet land preparation is used then having the puddling equipment (picture below ) like in Vietnam would be more suitable and cost-effective than an expensive scraper (picture above)
- Size and shape of plots: If the land is large and flat then large machines are desirable as they will allow quick turn around. On the other hand if the plots are small and of irregular shapes and sizes then smaller machines will increase manoeuvrability
The choice of processing facility depends on the following factors:
- Finished product type and quality requirement: e.g. if parboiled rice is desired by consumers then an integrated mill with a parboiling section will be required. On the other hand if export quality is needed then the mill equipment will need to be modified (e.g. colour sotex machine)
- Starting and final capacity: capacity depends on amount of raw materials coming from both own farm (nucleus) and third party (outgrowers). The speed of capacity increase depends on the ramp-up of farming activities. Some processing facility is installed with a provision for a second line to allow quick capacity expansion