Quantifying Water Content and Usage by Cocoa Tree for climate change adaptation

This project focus on the design and building of both a HRM and TDM sap flow sensors utilizing inexpensive parts for the purpose of estimating tree sap flow for large scale development for studying and collecting water transpiration data on Cocoa tree. 

We seek to develop a comprehensive knowledge of the transpiration of the Cocoa tree, helping to establish its water usage over the seasonal period then disseminate the information among cocoa farmers for good farming decisions. 

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About This Innovation

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This project focus on the design and building of both a HRM and TDM sap flow sensor utilizing inexpensive parts for the purpose of estimating tree sap flow. for large scale development for studying and collecting water transpiration data on Cocoa  (Theobroma cacao)  tree. 

Cocoa is the largest cash crop exported to most West African countries including Ghana. Ghana and Ivory Coast combined supply more the half of the world's Cocoa. In these two countries, Cocoa farming the number one farming activities and employs more the millions of peasant and small-scale farmers. 

The Cocoa Tree thrives under specific conditions of the equatorial climate and requires close to even distribution of water/rainfall to its pod production.  But over the years, due to issues of climate change (resulting in low rainfall and drought) among others, there has been poor yield which has resulted in declining production in global Cocoa beans and in results affecting the livelihood of cocoa farmers.  
There have been cases, where farmers have contemplated the use of irrigation for their cocoa farms but due to lack of water data for such activity, farmers can't venture into such irrigation (The Cocoa trees are of high value to the farmers and take close to 3-5 years for fruition so farmers are afraid to experiment) .

In our study, we seek to develop a comprehensive knowledge of the transpiration of the Cocoa tree, helping to establish its water usage and needs over the seasonal period then disseminate the information among cocoa farmers to help them make good farming decisions to improve their yield. 

How does your innovation work?

Our Project and research involve the uses of Sap flow sensors built to use both the Heat ratio method (HRM) and the Thermal dissipation method (TDM) to estimate plant transpiration for plant/tree with the diameter greater than 25 centimeters. 
Both of these methods use cylindrical thermocouple and heater probes inserted into the tree xylem. While the installation and methodology of using these sensors are different, the fundamental mechanics and operation of the probes are similar.

TDM is based on the assumption that the heat input by the sensor under steady sap flow conditions is equal to the heat dissipation (via convection and conduction) along the interface between the sensor and the tree when the sensor and the tree are in thermal equilibrium. 

HRM is based on the assumption that the heat input by the sensor under steady sap flow conditions is equal to the heat dissipation (via convection and conduction) along the interface between the sensor and the tree when the sensor and the tree are in thermal equilibrium.
 
By using both technologies, we are able to provide more accurate results than most existing technologies and methods.
 
The sensors are embedded with GSM/Lora communication boards to help them transmit their data to a central server and for meaningful interpretation. 
 

What Evidence do you have that your Innovation works?

The initial part of our work and its research have a proven results of accuracy and cost effective. Our partners at the University of Pittsburgurg published the initial prototype and results through an article titled  Sap Flow Sensors: Construction, Quality Control, and Comparison in 2012. 

We are currently also working with the University of Alaska water research team for its improvement and adaptation for Cocoa tree.  

Do you have current users or testers?

Not

What is your strategy for expanding use of your innovation?

Since our current work centers on Cocoa and with Cocoa being a national cash crop, our approach is to work with the national cocoa board and the cocoa farmers groups to expand our adoption and also with the dissemination of data and insights gains from our work. 

Future expansion will cover other crops and tree in the region. 

Next Steps

Our next steps to build a number of prototypes/sensors for large scale deployment, testing on a large field of the cocoa trees.

Also, we intend to start work on building our own server and interface for collection and interpretation of the water data. A web and Mobile app will be developed to help disseminate the insights to farmers. 

Gathering the data over a period of a year can help us understand better the plant transpiration cycle of Cocoa tree and also investigate the possibility of irrigation. 

We also intend to work with the National Cocoa board as partners. 
 

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