In Kenya, agriculture is the backbone of the economy. The sector is, however, plagued by a set of problems such as small and fragmented land holdings, costly inputs and unreliable weather patterns.
However, new technologies are emerging seeking to provide solutions to these problems.
One such innovative solutions is by Abraham Gatene who has come up with Internet of Things (IoT)- enabled hydroponics and aquaponics.
Hydroponics is a method where farmers grow plants under controlled conditions like water volume and nutrient supply. The system favours fast growth of vegetables and fodder. Soil is not needed in this kind of farming.
Mr Gatene, 25, has combined technology with hydroponics and aquaponics. The whole project is computerised such that it can run without any unnecessary human intervention.
A digital pond system supplies the crops with required nutrients and with the help of an app called Mkulima Townie, one can monitor the growth of plants.
The system includes a stand with pipes arranged in rows where the plants grow. The IoT system controls the temperature, water, nutrients, light and PH and the Mkulima app helps a farmer monitor crops.
The farmer can also use Twitter Notification to retweet in order to optimise all the conditions needed by the plants and fish. All this is done remotely.
“This system can monitor the environment of hydroponic device through some sensors in a real-time and automatically transmit the data on temperature, humidity, light intensity, water level and pH through autonomous tweets notification and GSM (SMS),” the techie says.
This method of growing plants, he says is “stress-free as the crops are not stressed at all and receive all conditions required non-stop”.
“The project addresses the difficulties of owning land as it uses minimal space and in cities and towns it will solve the problem of hidden hunger as well as serve aesthetic purpose,” Mr Gatene says adding that since this kind of farming is conducted in a controlled environment, it can be done anywhere, from the rooftops, terraces, balcony or any other space in the house so long as there is light.
One can also be creative with the space by hanging pipes on the walls or grills.
While implementing his first project, Mr Gatene used old pipes, woods and metallic objects.
He nailed woods together to form a stand and made small holes on the pipe to help in watering the crops. In a one-metre by two-metre space, with eight pipes, he grew 90 pieces of crops.
“The method of farming reduces the growth cycle of plants by half. In my trial I have grown strawberries, coriander, managu, mchicha among other indigenous crops,” he says
“This method can also be used to grow crops like strawberries which many people don’t believe can grow in Kenyan coast.”
This project — which won Mr Gatene an award as the best project that promotes food security and nutrition during the Mombasa Agricultural show — can be installed in areas with no internet.
The techie notes that in such areas, a manual smart tap is installed which can open and close to optimise water in the pipes. The sensors make the fan to run when temperatures are too high or light the bulb when there is darkness.
Mr Gatene says he faced a lot of challenges in prototyping and simulation stage of the hardware with the cloud. Also finances for research was hard to come by. “To install a basic unit, it costs Sh10,000. I create income through sales of complete hydroponics and aquaponics system, which are integrated with our IoT technology,” he says, adding that he plans to start a big commercial setup in future.
“So far I have sold four setups in Mombasa and Kilifi counties,” the techprenuer says.
One can get the app in play store or access their website free of charge.