Smart Farms-Remote Farm Monitoring system

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Every farmer understands the importance of monitoring the crops and/or animals in the farm. It is important to monitor crop growth, field environment, and farming operations in order to increase the agricultural productivity and to promote efficient management. With the growing green revolution in progress the world of agriculture and smart farms are taking a leading role in ensuring efficient, innovative, dynamic and eco-friendly farms. Farmers are now looking for smart ways to monitor and manage their crops remotely.

Farmers over the years have experienced problems related to water usage and supply, energy supply and the demerit of distance of accessing these resources. The importance of monitoring the water usage in farms is increasing with farmers seeking technology that will help them improve their agricultural productivity.

@iLabAfrica Research Centre based in Strathmore University in collaboration with IBM Kenya, and Oregon State University together with Trans-African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory (TAHMO) intend to come together to develop an intelligent farm Management system that leverages Internet of Things(IoT) architecture through remote sensing and low power wide area networks as well data analytics. The overall concept of the system is to be able to build deeper analytics that can provide more information in a predictive model to help farmers understand their farms in terms of soil composition and changes, water usage and evaporation rates as well as the changing weather parameters that can visually present an insightful trend on the changing climate. This project collaboratively explores a way of remote monitoring that could guarantee farmers an easy way to understand various parameters such as temperature, humidity, soil moisture and water levels in various tanks on their farms among other parameters. This is expected to provide a smarter approach to farming, referred to as Precision Farming.

The data collected in the Internet of Things (IoT) stack in this project so far includes temperature, humidity, water level (rate of water evaporation also monitored through the use of evaporimeters –provided by Oregon State University), battery level and  the signal strength of the data transmitting devices.

To reliably provide this solution, the project is expected to use GSM/GPRS and Long Range (LoRa) connectivity to achieve the desired Machine-to-Machine data exchange between the farms and the cloud since the farming areas envisioned in these concept are located in rural areas. These areas experience poor signal strength even on the cellular network. Hence, the need to also gather data on the signal strength of the network.

Currently, two IoT devices of this kind have been deployed to a test farm in Kitengela, south of Nairobi. The devices are currently powered by mini solar-panels and continually transmit data at an interval of 15 minutes. These devices make of the GSM/GPRS technology as at now. The project as is, has proven to be working and data can be relayed from the farm to both a web and a mobile interface through IBM’s Cloudant database. The information gathered provides real-time information on the parameters described to the farmer.

The next step of development will be to  deploy the solution in more farms and build a low cost, low maintenance weather station that can be used by farmers and also provide an irrigation service that can intelligently be measured and remotely actuated. Alternative Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) communication technology, in this case, LoRa will also be implemented to provide a more stable and reliable service of transmitting these data.

@iLabAfrica IoT Manager and project lead Mr. Leonard Mabele mentioned that “with more funding, we can reach out to more farmers in remote areas and acquire more devices for deployment, mass testing and implementation. This will also allow us to reach out to IoT security experts to enable us to not only develop a working solution but a securely tested one as well. This projects will see us uplift the process and yields of farmers and in return build their communities.

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‘How to Smart-Start Your Business’ : The Event.

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The ‘How to Smart-Start Your Business’ event took place on Thursday 21st May 2015 at @iLabAfrica in Strathmore University. Organized by Sustainable and Inclusive Business Kenya together with Bernard Chiira, Incubation Manager at @iBizAfrica, the event was meant to teach start-up companies on the importance of coming up with Sustainable business models that not only focus on profit, but also on the environment and people i.e. People, Planet and Profit.

There were various attendees, most of them young visionary entrepreneurs in the IT and energy industry. There were various presentations from SIB Kenya, a knowledge center that strives to create awareness on the importance of companies and businesses to embrace sustainable and inclusive business practices. This was a great platform for SIB Kenya to give a more meaningful explanation of what it means for a business to be Sustainable, a great example being Strathmore University, for the direction it has taken in using solar power to generate electricity for the campus, thus saving a lot of money that would be used in other projects.

The main speaker was Philips Lead Researcher Anil Raiker. He gave a presentation on the importance of innovation, and how start-up companies should structure attractive business models that could last for longer and yield profits. After the talk, the attendees used this opportunity to tap into the vast experience of Anil Raiker, asking questions and advice on matters regarding their start-ups. Anil’s most memorable quote during his presentation was “The secret to success is combining Skill and Willingness”, motivating the young entrepreneurs to be ready to work harder to make their dreams a reality.