Dialling into remote irrigation system to cut water waste

A view of a section of the Niger river in Bamako clogged with plastic waste and other polluting materials, on June 2, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

NIGER • By turning the mobile phone into a useful tool for farmers, Niger-based company Tech-Innov aims to end the need for manual irrigation and limit water loss in this arid African country blanketed by vast swathes of desert.

Tech-Innov's founder, Mr Abdou Maman Kane, is an IT technician and a farmer's son from Zinder, the former capital of Niger, a city frequently affected by droughts.

Niger has a long dry season, and access to water resources is a major challenge. With a poverty rate of 44.1 per cent and a per capita income just over 230,000 CFA francs (S$556), the country is one of the world's poorest, according to the World Bank.

Remote irrigation, which enables farmers to activate the watering system for their crops from a distance, is not new.

But Tech-Innov's technology relies on two elements that are easily accessible in Niger - solar energy, an inexhaustible resource for powering water pumps - and a mobile phone, which is widely used in Africa.

The technology is simple: a control box equipped with a GSM chip is connected to the irrigation system and its network of pipes in the fields. To turn it on, a farmer taps a code into his cellphone. The cost is 200 CFA francs, the price of a call with a surcharge.

Profits are divided between Mr Kane and the mobile phone service provider.

The system puts an end to burdensome manual watering, and above all, unnecessary water loss. The quantity of water released can be adjusted by the company through data transmitted by nanosensors and analysed in partnership with the University of Niamey.

But, the price of the equipment is a stumbling block: 250,000 CFA francs for the application and control box, to which must be added the cost of solar panels or wind turbines to power the system.

"But the investment pays for itself within a year," claimed Mr Kane.

Moreover, with support from CIPMEN, a Niger-based incubator for small and medium-sized enterprises, Tech-Innov has developed partnerships with microfinance companies that help farmers come up with the initial investment fee.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2018, with the headline Dialling into remote irrigation system to cut water waste. Subscribe