A woman working on a farm in Kenya

App-controlled irrigation system helps farmers in Kenya

Image credit: Neil Palmer

An automated app-controlled system for irrigating fields has been developed by Kenyan engineers in a bid to help farmers improve their harvest in times of drought.

In spite of its rather high price tag of 50,000 Kenyan shillings ($480) per quarter of an acre, the system has already sparked interest from local farmers, with the early adopters swearing they are seeing improvements in the crop.

“I used to lose up to 70 per cent of my produce as a result of dry weather and inefficient irrigation, compared to only 10 per cent now,” said John Njeru, a farmer from central Kenya, whose harvest of spinach, tomatoes and carrots has benefited from the technology.

The farmer said the technology also cuts his water consumption and saves money as he no longer needs to pay workers to water the farm.

“That saves me 20,000 Kenyan shillings ($192) per month,” he said.

The solar-powered system consists of sensors installed in the fields measuring soil humidity, sending data to a smartphone app. If the soil is too dry, the system can automatically turn on irrigation hoses installed in the field.

“Farmers in the region traditionally water crops with cans or buckets,” said Daniel Maitethia, an electronics lecturer at Kenya's Meru University of Science and Technology.

“The lack of measuring also means they water crops unevenly, so some may get too much water and others not enough,” he said.

The system is self-monitoring and in case of problems or malfunctions automatically sends alerts to the farmer. The Meru University engineers can then provide remote assistance to solve the problem. However, the consultation is paid and costs up to 500 Kenyan shillings (about $5) depending on the severity of the problem.

The technology, launched last year, impressed the Water Services Trust Fund and the team received one million Kenyan shillings ($9,600) in November.

“This prize - and hopefully partnerships with other organizations - should make the technology available to small as well as large-scale farmers," Maitethia said.

The engineers believe that as more farmers purchase the system, the technology would eventually get up to 50 per cent cheaper.

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