Innovation for agriculture fund focuses on soil organic carbon monitoring using remote sensing technology in India and Kenya

21 December 2021
Satellite-based digital solutions for the valorisation of climate-friendly agriculture, I4Ag Soilify ESTI
Satellite-based digital solutions for the valorisation of climate-friendly agriculture, I4Ag Soilify ESTI

Under the Innovation in Agriculture (i4Ag) fund by the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ has recently launched a Soilify-ESTI project in India and Kenya to devise methods for monitoring and measuring regenerative agricultural practices through remote sensing technology. The objective is to ensure that digital approaches tested for capturing soil carbon build up and soil conservation measures for climate change mitigation, respectively, are available for replication and scaling. As a main partners Earth Analytics India and Partners in Prosperity (PnP) will support in developing the algorithm to measure soil organic carbon based on satellite data assets in India.


Climate change and soil degradation are two of the key global challenges. Every year, around 24 billion tons of fertile soil are lost, and around 25 percent of the Earth’s surface has already been degraded. Global greenhouse gas emissions would need to be drastically reduced by 2030 to meet the international climate policy goal of limiting global warming to below 1.5°C.

Smallholder and medium-scale farmers are severely affected by soil degradation and climate change impacts. At the same time, agricultural practices such as burning crop residues or deep tillage are exacerbating greenhouse gas releases and soil degradation. Climate-friendly, soil-conserving farming practices such as minimum or no-till tillage, addition of mulch and organic fertilizers, no-till or intercropping can help stop soil degradation and ensure long-term productivity. Because these practices increase soil carbon sequestration, they directly contribute to mitigating carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq) concentrations in the atmosphere.

However, these practices are not sufficiently implemented by smallholder and medium-scale farmers due to a lack of knowledge, technology, and incentives. As part of the global effort to address climate change, a number of GHG mitigation incentive schemes, such as the creation of the voluntary carbon market, corporate carbon offsets, and National Climate Change Contributions (NDCs), have been and are being developed. While these are already being used in other sectors to encourage mitigation actions, little has been done in the agricultural sector.

The generation and sale of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances for the voluntary carbon market is one example of existing incentive schemes. However, these still work with soil sample collection and activity-based modelling. These methods are relatively expensive and laborious as they rely on regularly collecting and validating soil parameters or agricultural activity information in the field. These methods are accessible and economical viable for larger farms. However, they are not accessible to smallholder and medium-sized farms in developing and emerging countries.

Although the build-up of soil carbon through appropriate agricultural cultivation practices both serves climate protection and ensures the long-term productivity of soils, it cannot be sufficiently valorized for smallholder and medium-sized farms.  One solution would be satellite-based, digital and cost-efficient approaches for recording and valorizing soil carbon build-up or soil protection. These, on the other hand, are not yet available to smallholder and medium-sized farms in partner countries.

To test and develop such approaches is the objective of the Soilify project.

About the global project I4AG

The Fund for the Promotion of Innovation in Agriculture (i4Ag) is a GIZ fund under the One-World-No-Hunger Initiative by the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). i4Ag promotes gender-sensitive innovations in the agriculture and food sector, focusing on the five key areas of mechanisation, digitalisation, renewable energy, research and extension and cooperation with the private sector. Innovation refers to interventions that change existing routines or introduce new ones. Examples include digital, technical, organisational, administrative or financial products, processes, services, technologies and business models. The fund casts a wide net in its search for innovations and is not restricted to a specific region, technology or value chain.

Innovations are identified, evaluated and selected through targeted networking or competitions. The goal is to initiate innovation partnerships with private and public organisations in order to pilot their innovations, develop them further in practice and adapt them to local contexts.

Under the i4Ag fund, several projects have already been commissioned. One of them is the stand-alone measure “Satellite-based digital solutions for the valorisation of climate-friendly agriculture (Soilify-ESTI)”. The objective of this i4Ag measure is to ensure that digital approaches tested in Kenya (sub-project ESTI) and India (sub-project Soilify) for capturing soil carbon build up and soil conservation measures for climate change mitigation, respectively, are available for replication and scaling.

The project engagement in India

The core of the Soilify Partnership is to:

  • develop, implement and scale remote sensing-based technologies to monitor the effectiveness of soil enriching strategies.
  • Secondly, the Soilify Project will co-create innovations that reward regenerative practices. By engaging diverse stakeholders with interest in supporting carbon sequestration and regenerative practices, we will identify concrete opportunities to test such solutions, and get them under way as pilots.
  • Thirdly, the Soilify Project supports selected NGOs and FPOs (Farmer Producing Organisations) in South Asia in their work on regenerative agriculture. They will have a tool to monitor the increase of soil organic carbon in their fields. They will also benefit from links to stakeholders that aim to reward these practices and participate in pilots to test such reward systems.

The project engagement in Kenya

  • Ecosystem Services Trading Initiative (ESTI) objective is to develop a digital control platform for automatized processing and administration of CO2 The satellite imagery and ground truth data will be combined into machine-deep learning algorithms to predict and measure soil organic carbon.
  • This monitoring will further be combined with farmer/project administrative data such as land ownership rights to verify project eligibility and with protocol functionality to calculate CO2 savings and prepare the certification of caron credits. This will create the opportunity for smallholder farmers to enter and make use of this market, increase their income and become part of the solution for climate change.
  • This digital integrated platform along with the satellite-based methodology will be submitted to the recognised record setting organisations like Verra, Plan Vivo and Gold Standard. Further lessons learned will also be shared with the relevant actors in the target countries.

Contact person

Jonas Kjetil Bartholomay, DV, i4Ag –

Key buzzwords

Regenerative agricultural, remote sensing, capturing soil carbon