Cranfield University is working with Colombian partner FUNDEBAN, a social foundation created by banana exporter TECBACO, to improve smallholders’ banana irrigation management practices.

The 18-month project will develop and test a new irrigation scheduling service for growers, incorporating high-resolution, remote-sensed imagery coupled with data from a network of weather stations and soil moisture sensors and outputs from a crop growth model. Smallholders will be supplied with the scheduling service via a mobile phone app to support in-field irrigation decision making 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 lead development of the tool, working closely with business partners in the UK and Colombia.

The project will focus in the post-conflict Magdalena region, Colombia, helping female smallholders to increase productivity, reduce nutrient losses due to excessive irrigation and thereby increase rural livelihoods.

In such a harsh and demanding environment, the key will be developing a tool that is intuitively easy for the growers to use but 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.

Professor Jerry 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.”

Bananas have been a staple part of the human diet for millennia and are widely reported to be the most popular fruit in the world. In the UK, on average each person eats 10 kg of bananas a year – that’s about 100 bananas and, as a nation, we consume over five billion bananas annually. 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 European Union constitutes the largest market for Colombian bananas, receiving over three quarters (76%) of its national export supplies.

Funded by Innovate UK, Cranfield experts will be working with Climate Edge and Environment Systems, who 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.

banana fiield
Banana field

About Cranfield University

Cranfield University is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.

Agrifood at Cranfield

Agrifood has been a key strategic theme at Cranfield University for over 40 years. We have internationally recognised expertise across both domestic and international food supply chains from primary food production, inputs - soil, plants and water, through to point of sale, waste reduction and applied informatics.

Students work closely with our partners in industry, Government or the NGO sector. We understand our clients’ challenges because more than 80% of the University’s business comes from sources other than Government. Most of our academic staff have spent considerable portions of their career in industry or Government, and are especially solution-oriented. We delight in assembling pan-University teams of experts from across our skill sets, often in collaboration with other Universities, and consultants, to meet challenges that fall outside the conventional academic disciplines.