Illuminum Greenhouses constructs affordable greenhouses and nethouses equipped with drip irrigation kits fitted with solar-powered sensors to improve water conservation and enable the Internet of Things penetrate and reach the base of pyramid farmers. Our goal is to minimise water wastage while collecting data on water irrigated while allowing these farmers to remotely control and operate their farm from wherever they are using their mobile phones through a simple text message.
The innovation solution is simple, automated drip irrigation with sensor technology. The sensor is a solar powered device that monitors temperature, humidity, soil moisture and regulates water through drip lines using a mobile phone. The farmer can open and close the irrigation system as well as query and get alerts on the status of the greenhouse regarding temperature, humidity and soil moisture by simply sending a message to the sensor located in the greenhouse or open field from anywhere and any time of day. This results in enhanced monitoring and care of the plants on the farm as well as water conservation. The system has also provides automatic alert through a message sent on exceeded parameters that require correction. The innovation stands out from the rest due to application of sensors to conserve water in farming and is affordable by smallholder farmers. The innovation is urgently required contribute to food production for the growing population with limited water available.
What is your innovation's value proposition?
For smallholder farmers who depend on rainfall to provide water for their crops, we provide affordable greenhouses and nethouses with drip irrigation kits equipped with solar powered sensors so that they may farm all year round while improving their water needs reducing wastages by up to 60%. The innovation system enhances water efficiency in critical in a location with scarce water. This is outside the norm where farmers have traditionally irrigated crops based on physical examination of the soil and specified times in the morning and evening creating a lot of loopholes for errors such as delayed irrigation, excessive or poor watering. Due to its low cost compared to available sensor technologies in the market used by the large-scale farms, the technology will overcome affordability challenge and is suitable for the smallholder farmers. Additionally, the design was informed by the gap existing in the market where the smallholder farmers practising farming in areas with scarce water but do not have a choice thus fitting to the context of use.
Additionally, the design was informed by the gap existing in the market where the smallholder farmers practising farming in areas with scarce water but do not have a choice thus fitting to the context of use.
We collect farmers data on their GPS location, Temperatures in their farms, Humidity in the farm and most importantly, the amount of water irrigated in litres. Based on this data, we analyse and begin geo-mapping our farmers based on their water consumption needs. What we have done with water irrigation data is, for example, tie it to the market access so the farmers can plan early and get the market for their produce. We know that tomatoes in a greenhouse of 8M by 15M consume 9500 litres from seeding to harvesting. When the system reports that 8000 litres of water has been irrigated, we immediately send the GPS location of the farm to our markets to agree on a rate given that the produce is about to be harvested. This reduces post-harvest losses as farmers can now secure markets well before their actual harvests and enhance the efficiency of delivery to the markets since we have their farms' GPS location.
Target results and impact
The drip irrigation sensors were piloted in Kericho and Nairobi locations which represented rural and urban context respectively. The exercise was carried out from February to December 2015 in the smallholder farmers’ greenhouses with drip irrigation systems. Urban farmers reported reduced water bills by up to 60% due to the improved water use during irrigation from controlled moisture level maintained at optimum levels. Rural farmers appreciated the technology as they found it to increase production with low amount of water. The farmers were also able to control water for crops while doing other income generating activities. Almost 63% of the farmers who piloted the device admitted having more time to do other things rather than attending to the farm to only regulate irrigation water. They only concentrated on crop care and left the sensors to irrigate the crops. English language was found to be a barrier to rural farmers prompting for translation to national language.
We have made new partners whom together we have developed version 3.0 which is able to upload all the data on soil temperature, soil moisture levels, ambient temperature and most importantly the amount of water irrigated. We have also introduced GPS coordinates for our system to allow us to map real-time where our farmers are and then tie this to the data that we receive on our cloud.
What is your strategy for expanding use of your innovation?
We have made progress by forming partnerships with donor entities such as USADF that have funded us to demonstrate our innovation to smallholder farmers in Kenya. Together we have set up demo plots around this farmers and used them as training centres to allow farmers learn and witness first hand the advantages of using this technology. This way we expose more farmers to the technology and educate the market allowing faster adoption. The next phase would be having a financial service provider to partner with us and finance our sensors to reduce the capital costs for our farmers to acquire the system. They can then begin paying back these loans as we monitor their yield and track their production using the system. We hope to tie the data on production to creating a credit worthiness for this farmers as most financial institutions do not loan farmers due to lack of a credit rating.
We are keen to combine the sensors and our greenhouses and nethouses so that we may sell a smart structure that not only protects farmers from pests and diseases but also increases their efficiency and reduces their cost of water due to the presence of sensors. This attracts more farmers to our structures enabling it to be our competitive edge and a value add to farmers. NGO's that provide farmers with agricultural equipment such as greenhouses or nethouses prefer our innovation installed in their structures as it allows them to track production and water irrigated therefore assisting them to remotely monitor this projects and ensure success while the data is helpful for them to provide KPIs for their project. Mobile operators see our innovation as a revenue stream under the internet of things portfolio that allows them to grow their service base from relying on voice and data. A value proposition Safaricom Kenya appreciates and is keen to explore. Using their sim cards in our system allows them to gain more income from the communication between the farmers and the sensors. Partnership for scaling up adoption of the innovation is between Action Against Hunger (AAH), a non-government organisation working with rural communities in the arid and semi-arid region of Kenya. AAH core business is the treatment and prevention of undernutrition, delivered through three traditional sectors of intervention: Nutrition, Food Security and Livelihoods, and Water, Sanitation & Hygiene. Key transversal approaches are Disaster Risk Reduction and Nutrition Security. We have also taken up partnerships with Local County Governments under the strategy of BOT-Build Operate and Transfer that has seen us join partnerships with Kiambu County. Other potential partners include established State development authorities supporting communal farming through irrigation for the poor rural communities, the NIB and KVDA.