Thu. Sep 24th, 2020

Supporting Farmers

Is IoT the answer in agriculture?

6 min read

Farmers in Rwanda attend a training workshop on the use of Mobile-apps in their activities. ©FAO

The 2017 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World issued by FAO states that there is more than enough food produced in the world to feed everyone, yet 815 million people go hungry.
Increased innovations will be needed to ensure food security. FAO has come up with different approaches. One of them is integrating ICT in agriculture.
Lambert Rulindana has been a software developer since he graduated from university in 2017, he had never carried out any assignment related to agriculture. After joining kLab (knowledge Lab), a Rwandan IT incubation centre, Lambert with his three friends developed several IT projects in different fields but not related to agriculture.
Participating in the Hackathon
In February 2018, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in collaboration with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) organized a #HackAgainstHunger aiming to identify and support innovative solutions to address challenges around food and agriculture.
According to FAO’s statistics, there are more than 800 million people are currently undernourished, while more than a billion tons of food never make it to the table. Yet, today, about 75% of the World’s poor live in rural areas and 2.5 billion people derive their livelihoods from agriculture. However, low agricultural productivity, poor transportation systems and limited policies affect their production and agriculture trade.
#HackAgainstHunger/Kigali aimed at developing ideas into tech solutions to ensure food security and end hunger.
More than 80 applications were received but only 24 were selected. The hackathon attracted diverse local practitioners from Innovators to Scientists, Agronomists, and Software developers.
On the first day, the hackers brainstormed on innovative ideas after understanding the different challenges currently facing the world as regards to ensuring food security and ending hunger.
On the second day, the teams kept up with hacking and developing prototypes to be presented to a panel of judges. Most of the hackers developed web based platforms and Internet of Things (IoT) enabled electronic materials sensors as solutions.
On the third day, Lambert’s team, “Kiza Solutions”, had emerged the best hacker after pitching an impressive idea on how to end hunger and improve food availability. They used IoT to make an electronic sensor to be buried into the soil and transmit data to the web based platform that will basically provide adequate information to the farmers.
Presenting the solution at the global platform
Lambert presented the solution at #HackAgainstHunger/Geneva in WSIS forum in Geneva from 18-19 March 2018. The challenge brought together best hackers from the three Hackathons – Kigali, Geneva and the Caribbean.
“The forum helped us make connections and we built a network with other software developers. We have since created a platform with people from all over the world through which we share challenges and solutions on prevailing different issues,” says Lambert.
Fine-tuning the app
Connectivity improves the functioning of markets by allowing farmers to access accurate price information, coordinate transport and other logistics, and facilitate easier exchange of perishable but nutritious foods such as animal products and vegetables.
“The Hackathon opened our eyes –it helped our team to be more precise about what we want. Initially our target was to win the prize.”
After the Hackathon, he went to talk to the farmers to hear about the real challenges.
“Agriculture production in Rwanda increased by 3%, which means we have enough food to feed everyone, but where is the food?” Lambert asked himself. “Some places have high prices while others lack of certain food products, yet the same food commodities are rotting somewhere in the farmers store,” Lambert sounded perplexed.
The experience with the farmers informed his decision to improve the application and consequently establishing a company called KizaLab Agri. The app will provide an IoT based solution providing information to farmers about their soils –the temperature, amount of water in the soil, its fertility to help them make informed decisions.
“We’re looking at practicing precision agriculture based on observing, measuring and responding to field variability in crops,” says Saphani Bazimya, KizaLab team member a Software Engineer.
How the application works
Under the IoT image processing of the area, a farmer will take a picture of the field and send it to KizaLab and they will be able to get real-time feedback via short messaging (SMS) on whether the soil is diseased or even if there’s potential disease attack to the soil.
“Farmers cited the main challenge as being the middlemen who determine the prices of the farmers’ products,” says Lambert.
Boosted with ten features, the app will also connect farmers to markets and by doing so farmers will be able to reduce food and water waste thus lowering the cost of production in agriculture.
At the beginning, the app will be used by cooperatives with over 5 hectares of land, starting in Musanze District, Northern Province, targeting potatoes value chain and the Eastern province in Maize production.
Farmers will use smartphones and the service will be free of charge sending and receiving SMS.
Future prospects
KizaLab envisions building a facility for data monitoring in agriculture mainly. The center will provide solutions depending on the prevailing challenges of the farmers.
Investing in ICTs that enable farmers to connect with information can decrease uncertainty and mitigate risk.
The project will work together with multi-partners in the fight against hunger and promotion of agriculture, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Agronomists and NGOs to teach and sensitize farmers about the new application.

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