IOT in Agriculture: Increasing Smallholder Productivity

Case Study: Kilimo Salama

The field of agriculture provides fertile ground for IoT applications. Faced with the acute challenge of feeding a world population expected to grow by two billion by 2050, investment in IoT agriculture solutions could prove vital. IoT applications have the potential to increase both the operational efficiency of farmers and the yield of the land. So-called precision farming systems (PFS) using data from sensors measuring crop yield, moisture levels, and terrain topography can enable the targeted application of fertiliser – this increases yields whilst reducing costs, and is more sustainable. Other PFSs can steer tractors using GPS data to cover a field more precisely and efficiently than a human driver could.

Precision Farming Increases Yields

In developed countries, the precision agriculture is already advanced and widely used. In the United States alone, the market for IoT in agriculture is estimated to be around 1.3 billion US-dollars per year. Emerging countries like Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, and others have begun to adopt some PFS strategies, especially on research farms, but the adoption is still very limited. In most developing countries, by contrast, there are no specific PFS programmes due to a lack of capital, knowledge and technologies. This could also be due in part to the general perception that PFS cannot be applied to small-scale farms of developing countries – a false conclusion, although developing appropriate PFS technology for small farms remains a greater challenge for scientists and engineers.

Sensors Help In Responding To Climate Challenges

Smallholder farmers produce around 80 per cent of the food consumed in Sub-Saharan Africa. How might IoT innovations develop to respond to their needs? They are confronted with challenges such as decreasing plot sizes, hostile environments (through drought, flood or soil erosion), unstable markets and the scarcity of water and energy. For many these problems are likely to intensify in the coming years and decades. IoT innovations can offer viable solutions in some of these areas. For example, effective drought response requires precise real-time information to proactively manage water costs. Sensors and monitoring systems can help farmers to measure moisture and find leaks swiftly. As our next case study demonstrates, IoT innovations in agriculture might also help in other, maybe unexpected ways, such as integrating farmers in markets and services (see page 15) where access has previously been limited.

Kilimo Salama

Kilimo Salama

Traditionally it has not been economical to offer insurance policies to rural smallholder farmers due to their remote location and the small sums involved. This left them extremely exposed, since one bad harvest due to drought or flooding could ruin their livelihood. Kilimo Salama (Swahili for “safe agriculture”), allows smallholders to insure their crops against drought and floods for the first time, by using IoT technology to increase reach while lowering operating costs.

Farmers can purchase an insurance policy for their crops along with their seed, at a cost of five per cent\ of the sale price of the crop. Monitoring is carried out through a network of remote, unmanned weather stations which record levels of wind and rainfall. If an insured farmer’s local weather station records extreme weather like heavy rains or drought, they receive an automated payout for lost earnings on their crops through the mobile payment system M-Pesa. This eliminates the often lengthy claims process involving an agent visiting the farm to estimate losses.

Thanks to the network of sensors, the insurance service also doubles as climate monitoring and warning system. Data from the weather stations is evaluated so that regional weather trends can be monitored and analysed. This information is passed on to the insured farmers by text message, who can adjust their plans and crops accordingly and protect or improve their harvests. As well as increasing overall productivity through information and support services for insured farmers, Kilimo Salama has also helped to re-build farmers’ trust in the insurance sector, which is now under pressure to offer more products, such as livestock insurance.

The initiative grows from a small pilot programme in 2009 to become the largest agricultural insurance programme in Africa and the first to use mobile phone technology to speed access and payouts to rural farmers. It has expanded its scheme to other African Countries such as Rwanda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Nigeria reaching over 150,000 farmers.

Countries: Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Nigeria
Technology: Weather sensors + mobile payment system (M-Pesa)
Partners: Syngenta Foundation, UAP Insurance, Safaricom, Kenya Meteorological Department


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