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Kenyan irrigation app aims to cut water waste, crop losses

Dealing with more unpredictable and irregular rainfall associated with climate change is a challenge for many farmers, and one made worse by water-wasting, inefficient irrigation systems, experts say.

But scientists from Kenya's Meru University of Science and Technology have come up with one way to deal with the problem: a mobile app that monitors the need for water in fields and controls irrigation equipment to deliver just what is needed.

"Farmers in the region traditionally water crops with cans or buckets", an inefficient way of getting water to plants, said Daniel Maitethia, an electronics lecturer at Meru University.

"The lack of measuring also means they water crops unevenly - so some may get too much water, and others not enough," he said.

The "sensor-based automatic irrigation system" app, launched last year, uses senors placed throughout a field to determine if soil is moist enough.

If it's too dry, a control unit uses solar panels to open the valve of a water tank, then close it again when the soil is damp enough.

Initially tested at the university's own farm, the irrigation system is now being rolled out to the public.

"We can't yet quantify how many farmers are using the app, but hope to expand it to thousands across Meru County - and potentially the rest of the country if the system proves successful," Maitethia said.

The combined app and irrigation system cost 50,000 Kenyan shillings ($480) per quarter of an acre, including solar panels and two drip irrigation lines. The system can be expanded to an additional quarter acre for 5,000 Kenyan shillings ($48).

While Maitethia acknowledges the upfront cost of the system is high, he believes it will not only curb water waste but save labour costs as it does not require farmers to physically monitor it.

"If there is a glitch in the system, the farmer receives a text message notifying him of the problem," he explained. "A technician employed by the university will then help the farmer remotely with instructions, or physically come to the farm if needed."

Depending on the severity of the problem, a consultation with a technician can cost the farmer up to 500 Kenyan shillings (about $5).

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

Päivitetty/Updated: 24.01.2017




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