By Nita Karume :
A group of young Rwanda innovators have come up with a solar powered technology that enables farmers to irrigate their farms “hands free”. The technology uses solar-fueled sensors and irrigation to collect data on soil moisture, nutrient needs and water needed to foster crop growth.
The innovation is in line with a project of Precise Agriculture (PA), a modern farming management model using digital techniques to monitor and optimize agricultural production processes. The innovators are members of the Kicukiro District-based STES Group.
According to experts in PA, instead of applying the same amount of fertilizers over an entire farmland, this farming model will measure variations in conditions within a given farm and adapt its appropriate fertilizing or harvesting strategy. Furthermore, data about the state of soil is displayed on a farmer’s phone screen and the technology gives them a variety of activities to perform accordingly.
The technique seeks to increase the quantity and quality of farm product while using less input. This is with an aim to save costs, reduce environmental impact and produce more and better food. Narcisse Musabirema, one of the team members who created the technology said that normally, people would till the land, sow, de-weed, and harvest without knowing what has occurred within their farms. They are not privy to the state and quantity of fertilizers and the quantity of water in soil, as well as the level of nutrient deficiency in the soil. This would then form a niche in the market that the system seeks to bridge.
According to STES group representative Arsène Simbi Rutangira, the system costs between US $300 and US $500. He explained that one sensor and automated irrigation device can work on one hectare, if it is a flat farmland. However, there should be availability of water in water tanks or dams as well as irrigation equipment such as drip irrigation tubes.
The system uses sensors put in the soil to measure the state of soil including temperature, moisture and humidity as well as nutrients levels. This enables them to control the elements. All this is facilitated through the use of an online platform that goes by the name ‘farmbook’. The platform has various options including automatic irrigation, moisture and state of soil nutrients.
This then allows a farmer to monitor what is happening on their farm while at home or elsewhere through their phone. He explained that through signals, the sensors alert the farmer to stop irrigating once the water that a crop needs is enough.