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Irrigation system that can tell when farm soil is dry

By Phares Mutembei | Updated Sat, May 20th 2017 at 00:14 GMT +3

Students and a lecturer at Meru University of Science and Technology have developed a sensor-based automatic irrigation system.

The innovation is aimed at reducing the labour cost and amount of water wasted in overhead and furrow irrigation methods.

James Karuri, Samuel Lalai and lecturer Daniel Maitethia developed the idea and finalised it towards the end of last year, and are now looking for companies to manufacture the system in large scale for farmers.

Reduce costs

Maitethia, who is the team leader, says the system, which has already won a Sh1 million prize from the Water Ministry, will reduce the cost of producing food through irrigation and curb water wastage.

“A solar-powered intelligent irrigation system is what Kenya needs to achieve food security and conserve water. The sensors in the system that we developed detect when the soil is dry so that the system can release water to crops,” said Maitethia, adding that once enough water has been channelled to the crops the system automatically closes the supply.

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The solar-powered system has a battery for backup in the event the sun is not out long enough.

Karuri, who graduated from the university with a degree in Computer Science and is now an intern at the institution, says it took only Sh60,000 for the team to build the system.

“There is not enough water for irrigation yet it is one of the methods we need to enhance for increased food production. Our idea was to have a system that uses the little available water efficiently. What is left is to refine the innovation and have it manufactured in large numbers,” says Karuri.

Lalai graduated with a diploma in electronics engineering and says a farmer can operate the system remotely by sending SMS to it.

“Farmers will be able to remotely turn on and off the water pumps, and open or close valves located at different parts of the land. On top of reducing wastage, it saves on labour cost,” says Lalai.

Refine the system

Maitethia says what is left now is to refine the system and come up with a proto-type final version.

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“The system was picked as the best innovation during Kenya Water Week in November last year and awarded Sh1 million as seed money to develop a functional proto-type in readiness for mass production,” says Maitethia.

The system will be exhibited at the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation show at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre next week.

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