Smart IoT agriculture makes inroads

Although not ranking high in media titles, other issues apart from Covid-19 are distressing our planet. Last week, for instance, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization declared extremely alarming” the situation in east Africa, where food supplies are under threat as desert locusts infest the region. A single swarm can contain up to 150 million insects with a range of 150 kilometers each day, decimating enough food to feed tens of thousands of people. With some countries already on the brink of starvation, this could lead to a humanitarian disaster.

We often discuss how smart IoT technologies can be beneficial in enabling a careful environmental sensing, collecting field data to feed advanced analysis and decision-making processes for safer, more efficient and sustainable Cities. But the IoT is being implemented far beyond urban settings, with an increasing number of innovative agricultural applications that could unlock new drivers of economic growth in developing countries.

A good example comes from the African Center of Excellence in Internet of Things (ACEIoT), set up at University of Rwanda in 2017. Gathering professionals from different disciplines, the Center have recently offered training courses on IoT applications for drones and UAVs, and some participants are now exploring the development of solutions for crop diseases detection.

The IoT initiative led by GSMA and the World Bank is also making progress. Announced a couple of years ago, it aims at leveraging anonymized data collected by mobile network operators to design and feed a wide range of applications, from agriculture to environmental protection and beyond. Today there are more than 3.8 billion unique mobile subscribers in developing countries and GSMA Intelligence estimates there will be 25 billion IoT connections globally by 2025. As the growth is particularly rapid in developing countries, the IoT initiative is expected to support a number of applications, starting from those that are most urgently needed in some areas, such as real-time crop monitoring and water leakage detection.

Another promising project is AirQo, an air quality data monitoring, analysis and modelling platform established as a research initiative of Makerere University. Thanks to over 80 connected bespoke air quality monitors in Kampala and wider Uganda, this initiative represents a wide repository of high-quality air data, creating the backbone for further data-driven environmental solutions in Africa, where air pollution is a worrying issue.

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