Nº 6 2015 > Celebrating ITU’s 150 Years
Youth and Innovation
Innovating with Fatoumata:
How m‑farming can feed the next 2.4 billion people
With a rapidly growing population, we must think differently about water to ensure food security, conserve delicate ecosystems and reduce poverty by 2050. Fatoumata Kebe’s project CONNECTED ECO, a winner of ITU Telecom’s Young Innovators Competition 2014, addresses this issue.
I am an aerospace engineer, but a 2009 trip to Mali provided inspiration for CONNECTED ECO, a social mobile farming solution which hopes to address the global water and food crises.
I was invited to Mali as part of the International Labour Organization’s Transfer of Knowledge through Expatriate Nationals (TOKTEN), where I had the opportunity to meet people working in diverse fields, such as agriculture, women’s empowerment and education. I was shocked to hear that farmers in Mali were not able to produce enough food to feed their families and had to sell a large proportion of their produce to pay their bills or to have access to health care.
I started developing the idea of a social m‑farming project by looking at some facts: By 2050, the world’s population is expected to have increased by a third, rising from 7.2 billion today to 9.6 billion. Most of these additional 2.4 billion people will live in developing countries. If current income and consumption growth trends continue, it is estimated that agricultural production will have to increase by 70 per cent by 2050 to satisfy the expected global food demand. At the same time, women in developing countries do almost as much work as men in the field, together with household duties. Additionally, literacy and education rates among women are considerably lower than their male counterparts. In Mali, only 20.3 per cent of women are literate, compared to 36 per cent men. Agriculture in the developing world must therefore be transformed to feed a growing global population and to provide a basis for economic growth and poverty reduction.
Firstly, how water is managed is at the centre of the problem, as it plays a critical role in crop production. Key to the solution is knowing the right time to irrigate, and how much water to use. However, additional factors such as management practices, technological advances, market prices and agricultural policies must also be taken into consideration.
Secondly, providing women access to education is a cornerstone to reducing poverty and enhancing economic growth. Steps must therefore be taken to ensure women’s social and economic inclusion into society.
About CONNECTED ECO
CONNECTED ECO is a social mobile farming solution that takes advantage of existing Internet-of-things (IoT) technologies and transforms their potential into a sustainable business model. The start-up capitalizes on existing IoT capabilities, integrated with a specially designed smartphone app to create “smart farms”, where ecological processes are monitored in order to facilitate “smart” water management and deploy irrigation more efficiently. By bringing the cheapest, most suitable and sustainable sensors to Mali we can begin to develop smart sustainable farming: reducing water waste, increasing agricultural yield and promoting digital literacy among female cooperative farmers.
The m‑farming concept
By collecting live data on crop and soil conditions, CONNECTED ECO facilitates customized farming to maximize agricultural yield.
Farmers are to be given wireless IoT sensors which are programmed to measure vital agricultural data points including humidity levels, light intensity, soil moisture and electrical conductivity. These data are transmitted via Wi-Fi to an integrated smartphone app — or SMS to low-end handsets — to give real-time information on prevailing weather conditions.
Users can access charts and graphs via the app’s dashboard which analyses the data over periods of time and compares measurements to a database of local meteorological conditions. By accessing information farmers will be able to refine their agronomic techniques, reduce crop stress due to overwatering, and therefore reduce water waste. The app advises farmers on the optimum time of day to irrigate their land and the amount of water to use.
By automating the water system, the mobile app can also deploy and control water flow to crops, thus regulating irrigation more effectively. A solar-powered water valve is a flow device which, when attached to a drip irrigation system, allows for more efficient watering. Thus this project will prevent both damage due to drought as well as excessive watering.
Once tested and refined, CONNECTED ECO will be deployed across Mali using IoT sensors developed by a technology partner. Eventually, we hope to see this project implemented across West Africa.
This article is an abridgement.
For full text see:http://itu150.org/story/february/