A step towards wireless sensor network and Internet of Things application for smallholder farming in Ethiopia

Agriculture is the backbone of the economy of most developing countries, Ethiopia is no exception. Farmers of such countries heavily rely on agriculture to produce their own food as well as a source of income. On the other hand, most agricultural practices in these countries are rainfed, intuitive and use fragmented lands. As a result, these regions struggle to be food self-sufficient and are thus food insecure. This calls for improved knowledge-supported farming practices where farmers can adapt efficient utilization of existing resources and improve productivity.

Information technology tools are identified as enablers to overcome such challenges and bring about significant change on farming practices in the developed world. Internet of Things (IoT), wireless sensor network (WSN), cloud computing, and edge computing are examples we can mention in this context. 

IoT and WSN, which use small, inexpensive, and efficient sensing devices for in-field data collection, have gained significance in recent years [1]. The application of these technologies is expected to grow even more in the near future: around 26 billion sensors will be connected to the Internet with a possible market growth of 450 billion USD [2, 3]. In agriculture, IoT is creating remarkable opportunities for farm improvements: farmers monitor their farms almost in real time without necessarily being in the farm; application and use of resources has become efficient, based on the accurate measurements obtained, leading to smart farming or precision agriculture. It is anticipated that IoT will further push the future of farming even to a higher level [1]. IoT and WSN allow for gathering of a large amount of quality data with the advantage of cost efficiency and affordability, pervasive connectivity, ease of scalability and implementation simplicity. Its ease of deployment in a harsh and infrastructure deprived areas is also worth mentioning. 

Today, a number of large IoT-based agricultural projects are seen across the world: Food and Farm 2020 of EU, Kansas water preserving through sensors, Bangladesh’s new sensor technology and the NanoGanesh are notable mentions [4]. Poor countries in Africa have weak infrastructure making in situ data collection very challenging. Consequently, farm related data is either unavailable or sparse and disorganized. Despite the advantages that IoT and WSN provide in such scenarios, their practicability in the developing countries is negligible; and even today, efforts towards applying such technological tools to fill the data gap and assist farm decision makings are insignificant. 

As part of an EENSAT PhD research project, Addis Ababa University (AAU) and University of Twente (UT) collaborated to bring IoT and WSN into being in Ethiopia for continuous soil monitoring and automatic soil data collection at rural smallholder farms. Currently, a set of custom made Decagon soil moisture and temperature sensors with transceivers and gateways are configured and delivered to AAU, on loan basis. Here at AAU, the devices are being tested for both front- and back-end communication before deploying them to the farms. The aim is to monitor the spatio-temporal dynamicity of soil moisture and temperature and how it affects farm yields all year long. Two weredas (districts) from South Wello zone are selected as target area for deploying the WSN. The target area is selected due to the fact that the area is known for frequent food insecurity and vulnerability to climatic shocks. The WSN collects the soil data and transfers it to the gateways through radio communication and using LoRaWAN protocol. The gateway accumulates the received data and echos it to the cloud server using an Internet connection provided through sim cards. AAU will configure a GSM module to establish a data connection from the gateways to the cloud so that data reaches the central server autonomously.

We will update you on the status of the WSN and IoT implementation through future issues of this newsletter.

References 

[1] Mahmoud Omid. Is Internet of Things (IoT) the future of agricul- ture? online, 2017. URL https://misc.researchgate.net/project/ Real-world-applications-of-Internet-of-Things-IoT-in-agricultural-settings. last accessed: September, 2018. 

[2] Peter Middleton, Peter Kjeldsen, and Jim Tully. Forecast: The Internet of Things, worldwide, 2013. online, December 2013. URL https://misc. gartner.com/newsroom/id/2636073. last accessed: September, 2018. 

[3] Louis Columbus. 2017 Roundup Of Internet Of Things Forecasts. online, December 2017. URL https://misc.forbes.com/sites/louiscolumbus/ 2017/12/10/2017-roundup-of-internet-of-things-forecasts/ #71211b621480. last accessed: September, 2018. 

[4] anonymous. Why IoT, big data and smart farming are the future of agricul- ture. online, February 2017. URL http://misc.fao.org/e-agriculture/ news/why-iot-big-data-smart-farming-are-future-agriculture. last accessed: September, 2018.