Rosine Mwiseneza's viewpoint
Rosine Mwiseneza, founder and CEO of SmAgri Ltd – a Rwandan agricultural company that develops precision-farming solutions – explains why optimised irrigation is essential for smallholder farming.
How does SmAgri use data to increase the efficiency of smallholder irrigation?
SmAgri has developed an automated irrigation system to optimise water use for agricultural crops. Data collected by the sensors, which were set up in remote farms during our pilot trials in 2017, now provides small-scale farmers with accurate information to remotely monitor, control and manage their irrigation systems with greater precision. The sensors generate real-time data, which is then shared with end users through a mobile app, enabling smallholder farmers to convey water to their plants at the required date, with the required precision and uniformity.
SmAgri’s current automated irrigation system is embedded with a sensor and an on/off switch. The sensor system package collects data on soil moisture, temperature, humidity and can automate irrigation when required. Technologies such as LoRaWAN and GPRS collect data in real time to provide information based on the specific water needs of the farmer’s crop. Reducing the time and costs spent by farmers on traditional irrigation is something we need to achieve in promoting smart, small-scale irrigation schemes.
What is the potential of such precision agriculture technologies to improve farmers’ resilience to climate change?
In Rwanda, like elsewhere across sub-Saharan Africa, small-scale farmers are exposed to changes in the climate; they need support to adapt their agricultural methods to become more productive and resilient. Precision agriculture technologies promote new ‘smart’ practices that are critical during varying weather conditions.
As the climate shifts, small-scale farmers rely on advisory services and real-time data. The SmAgri system sends farmers alert notifications via SMS, which mainly provide information on how soil properties and rainfall influence plant development. This allows farmers to cope effectively with climate shocks, such as droughts, by turning pumping equipment on or off after receiving notifications on their mobile phone. Using all the data sets that they receive through the mobile app, small-scale farmers are now able to make informed decisions as to how they irrigate their crops.
As part of our pilot programme, the new technology has been used to monitor 9 ha of arable land for five producers in eastern Rwanda. At least 15 secondary schools across the country have also been involved in training young students to use the new application, so that they can promote its usage in remote rural smallholdings. While farmers were encouraged to buy sensors and GPRS equipment at a modest price of around €17.50 each, students were trained on how to use the whole system and the maintenance of its equipment.
The new mobile app is used to control, monitor and receive reports on how much water is used, and to provide the user with access to crop calendars to advise farmers on the next steps. Such data increases the efficiency of smallholder irrigation by reducing the time farmers spend on irrigation management on their fields.
Why is it so crucial that smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa have access to irrigation technology tailored to their needs?
Smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa often rely on subsistence agriculture and traditional irrigation methods, such as watering cans or pipe systems, to grow their crops. As a result, large areas across Africa have been experiencing severe food shortages due to the high cost of irrigation in terms of time, water, money and energy consumption. SmAgri offers a solution, providing an affordable technology to boost yields through increased precision. It is essential that smallholders have access to such technologies for more efficient allocation of resources, in terms of equipment and expertise, throughout the year. Through precision agriculture, we farm smarter.