June 30, 2015

Agriculture in Africa is faced with challenges such as over reliance on rain fed agriculture, outdated farming technologies and minimal youth inclusion in the sector. We have a solution to this

Our solution is simple, modern greenhouses with sensor technology. Greenhouses offer a controlled and regulated environment. So, what’s different with ours? We seek to create a limitless integrated modern greenhouse with sensors that monitor temperature, humidity, soil moisture and most importantly regulate the water supply which is channeled through drip lines and link them up to the farmers mobile phone. The monitoring and regulation is done by the farmer remotely through their mobile phones. They can be able to open and close their irrigation system as well as query and get alerts on their current greenhouse status i.e Temperature, Humidity and Soil Moisture content via SMS. This can be done from anywhere and anytime of day just by sending a simple SMS to their greenhouse. This system is powered by solar panels thus green and can work in rural areas where electricity is a challenge. The farmer shall also be getting periodic SMSs on the status of the greenhouse or also send a query SMS to the device which in turn responds with a summary of the greenhouse micro climate parameters.



How does the automated sensor gadget work?

Our greenhouse automation system works by measuring and monitoring specific conditions needed for optimum growth of plants. This is done by electronic sensors that continuously monitor these set parameters and if exceeded rectifies the situation and notifies the farmer via an SMS alert. This data collected by the sensors is also dynamically updated to an online server for analyses to provide information such as graphs e.g temperature against time. These graphs are stored for up to an year so as to assist the farmer to plan for the next season as he/she will be able to know which months have the appropriate optimum conditions for growth.

How does it help in managing the greenhouse – conserving water and greenhouse maintenance?

The system is equipped with a Soil moisture sensor that regulates and monitors water in the soil. If the soil moisture falls below the required minimum, the soil moisture sensor will detect this and immediately trigger the electronic gate valve to open and start irrigating the crops. As this is done, an SMS is sent to the farmer informing him of the current activity in the greenhouse. Once the water level in the soil is back to the required state, the soil moisture sensor then sends impulses to shut of the valve. Once off, irrigation stops and the farmer receives an SMS notifying him of the completed irrigation. The system is also automatic in that it can be set to irrigate the crops at predetermined time intervals leaving the farmer to concentrate on other activities in the greenhouse such as weeding and pruning.. This greatly improves water conservation as irrigation is only done at the required time and is accurately measured by the soil moisture sensor. Unlike the norm where the farmer has to be there every morning and evening to open the valve and approximates when the soil is wet enough to allow him/her to close it, this is now being done by a soil moisture sensor which is more accurate and precise with 0 human input.

Why is this gadget the answer to smallholder farmers?

Smallholder farmers that depend on wells with electronic pumps, municipal waters, or paid water services experience high costs of water bills. This can be minimized with the use of a more efficient automated drip irrigation that irrigates only when necessary and irrigates the required amount. This minimizes errors associated with human control. This gadget also will put more time into the farmers’ hands due to the reduced work load in the greenhouse enabling them to handle other issue and at the same time be able to monitor their greenhouses from their mobile phones. Smallholder farmers will now be able to properly plan their farming programs based on the information provided to them by the online server. Regular farming patterns will be established minimizing risks of unpredictable weather conditions.

How many sensors are there in this gadget?

This gadget has got two temperature sensors, two humidity sensors and one soil moisture sensor.

How do these sensors work and must they be charged?

Energy is a major African issue and we at Illuminum Greenhouses particularly understand that. Our gadget is solar powered enabling it to work anywhere in Africa. It has a 18Watt Solar panel and a battery which is charged by the panel during the day and then provides the system with the required power during the night. The battery can go for 5 days without any charge making it a very durable system.

How does the farmer get the SMS alert and how does he regulate the system from a distance?

The gadget is first installed with a SIM Card from any service provider. However, at the moment we use Safaricom due to its widespread network coverage all over the country. This SIM card is loaded with airtime and internet bundles and subscribed to the unlimited SMS service by Safaricom for 5Ksh. a day. This will enable the system to send as many SMS as possible. Once the gadget detects an extreme condition such as low soil moisture, the system immediately sends an ALERT SMS to the farmer notifying him of the extreme condition and the necessary action required. The farmer will then text the system with a command instructing the gadget to open the water valve. The system will read the SMS and instantly open the electronic water valve and begin irrigation until the moisture content is restored. Once restored, it will notify the farmer and the farmer will respond with an SMS instructing the gadget to close the valve. The system will receive the SMS from the farmer, read it and close the valve and once closed sends a confirmation message to the farmer. The system is really intelligent. If the farmer delays more than 30Mins without responding to the first SMS, the gadget will automatically start irrigating the crops until the moisture content is restored. The farmer also by sending a status SMS command will receive a general report of the status of his/her greenhouse. This report will include information about the date, time, Temperature in the greenhouse, humidity in the greenhouse, the soil moisture content and the battery power level. The farmer can also check the data balance in the device as well as the credit in order to frequently top up the SIM card in the device.

Can the farmer command the system from wherever he is? Or change the self regulation status?

Yes the farmer can command the system from wherever he/she is by simply sending an SMS to the gadget. The farmer can also initiate the irrigation himself without waiting for the device to notify him/her. The message in the SMS has to be a specific word in order for the system to understand the command issued. Currently on our version one, the farmer cannot change and configure the self regulation status. This are some of the upgrades that we are working on.

Tell us more about the daily information detected by the sensors? How useful is this to the farmer?

This information is very useful particularly during planning for the next harvest. The farmer will be able to avoid low temperature or high temperature seasons. The farmer will also be able to know the amount of water he/she is spending every month for irrigation. The daily alerts and status reports will enable the farmer provide a consistent micro climate for the crops hence creating a conducive environment for growth by promptly responding to extreme harmful conditions.

Also this data is collected in our servers and can be used by Agricultural experts to analyse weather patterns in the different locations of these greenhouses. Farming patterns will also be obtained from this data which then can be processed for crucial information. We are also working on inserting a Global Positioning System-GPS module in our system to provide more comprehensive data.

How will this sensor change the way we look at greenhouse farming for small scale farmers and those working in offices?

We believe small scale farmers will find this technology really interesting and improve water conservation reducing costs of irrigation and water supply. More time will also be created for farmers to be able to run other errands and ensure their greenhouse doesn’t run dry. For those in offices, the ability to monitor the system from an online server will enable them better understand and control their microclimates. They will also be the ultimate “telephone farmers” receiving texts of the status of their greenhouse. We are also working on integrating the system with a CCTV camera to enable those in offices be able to see what is happening in the greenhouse. They will also be getting SMS alerts of unauthorized persons enter the greenhouse. This will be particularly important during harvesting of the produce where most farmers usually those in offices experience a lot of losses due to theft and poor accountability.

How much does an Automated sensor cost including the cost of installation?

The automated system currently goes for Ksh. 35,600 due to the high costs of electronic components and assembly here in Kenya. We will soon be fabricating these devices in bulk and we project shall retail as low as Ksh. 15,000(USD150) to make it affordable to all smallholder farmers. Installation charges are only Ksh. 2,300(USD23). However, the system is designed to be very easy to install from the box to enable anyone to install. This shall be the cost of a complete system comprising of the Main Unit, Water gate valve, temperature sensor, humidity sensor and soil moisture sensor.

Also the system shall be based on the number of sensors a farmer acquires with the very basic system consisting of the Main Unit, a water gate valve and a soil moisture sensor costing only Ksh.8,900.(USD 89)





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