EAC Digital Pioneer – CENIT@EA Young Professional Develops Automated Drip Irrigation Monitoring System to Save Water and Time for Farmers (GIZ)

Joseph Ngigi Wangere is a young Kenyan who grew up inspired by how technology is used to solve problems in real-time. Hence, he always wanted to utilize his knowledge of physics and electronic devices to unravel solutions which tackle everyday challenges. Pursuant to this, he enrolled for the East African Community Master’s Programme in Embedded and Mobile Systems at the Centre of Excellence for ICT in East Africa (CENIT@EA), hosted by the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in Arusha, Tanzania (NM-AIST) and funded by German Development Cooperation. The Centre of Excellence through the Digital Skills for an Innovative East African Industry Project (dSkills@EA) equips and provides young professionals like Joseph with digital skills needed for digital transformation in the EAC region.

In efforts to strengthen academia-industry collaboration, CENIT@EA works with industry partners to identify the needs for digital solutions, so Young Professionals, trained in digital skills by the Centre, can apply research and create innovations on the ground during an internship. Joseph, who has just completed his six-months internship at the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) in Arusha, was eager to extend his applied research on an automated monitoring system for farm irrigation and its mechanization. Meanwhile, AVRDC was seeking for a solution to a seamless mechanization of farm irrigation processes as well as quality management of farm operations. With Joseph’s expertise, he has successfully managed to identify and recommend the automation of manual irrigation processes to minimize human interventions in the process chain, incorporating the use of wireless censors at irrigation zones and electric gate valves to control electricity usage.

At the start of his internship, Joseph thoroughly analysed how AVRDC operates on a daily basis to discover the underlying pain points and bottlenecks. Joseph identified the need to automate the farm operation and irrigation system, with a foreseeable opportunity to reduce usage of water, costs and time spend at the farm. Six months later, a prototype has been finalized with wireless sensors currently in place and able to provide real-time information regarding soil moisture and weather status. Now, Joseph is finalizing on the communication of the censor nodes with the gateway that triggers irrigation operations.

“This is a step towards fully automating all our farm operation. In the future we will incorporate drone technology to monitor crop via aerial imagery”, notes Dr Gabriel Rugalema Regional Director, World Vegetable Center. The farm process has been simplified with wireless censors able to read soil moisture and temperature data while sending information to the nodes that trigger the pumps for irrigation process to be activated. Omary Mbwambo, Farm Manager at World Vegetable Center highlights that, “this system will help economize the usage of water, reducing operational costs which in turn saves time and labour requirement.”

Further to this, Joseph also identified a gap in the integration of ICT and current digital tools in AVRDC’s overall operations. During his time at AVRDC, while interacting with the team at the farm, terms like sensors, micro controllers, and use of Internet of Things (IoT) were new to most staff. It was an opportunity to bring all the knowledge from the class to the field. “I am open to support AVRDC in the future, to maintain and further develop the system even after my Master’s Degree. I am thankful to the worthwhile investment in the timely programme that has equipped me with knowledge to create innovative solutions”, Joseph points out today.

While working on his Master’s Thesis, Joseph is now well equipped to succeed with his research whose outcomes can be replicated as a sustainable solution for the agriculture farming systems and ultimately improve food production in East Africa with the adoption of technology.

Background: “Digital Skills for an Innovative East African Industry” (dSkills@EA) is a regional innovation hub that offers digital skills and capacity building relevant for the digital transformation of industries and society through academia and industry collaboration. The project aims at strengthening the employment and innovation-related digital skills of youth in the EAC and supports the industry’s digital transformation. The project is part of the EAC-German technical development cooperation and implemented by the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the East African-German academic consortium that forms part of the Centre of Excellence for ICT in East Africa (CENIT@EA), led by the Nelson Mandela African Institution for Science and Technology (NM-AIST) and the University of Oldenburg.

Find more information on the dSkills@EA project under Education & Training (eacgermany.org)

Find more information on the Master's Programme and the possibility to apply under www.cenit-ea.org