Irrigating smarter for a sustainable tomorrow

Incorporating 4IR technologies into smart irrigation practices can significantly boost agricultural productivity and food security, writes Madhuri Ramesh.

While agriculture in developed countries is largely influenced by advancements in technology, the same is however not the case in developing countries such as Nigeria, where food shortages are a common occurrence. This is often a direct consequence of farmers' reluctance to adapt to emerging agricultural technologies. Moreover, agriculture consumes a majority of the world's freshwater supply, a situation that is further exacerbated by the obsolete farming methods used by farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as their heavy reliance on manually-operated irrigation methods.

A recent study evaluated the potential of Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies in smart irrigation and the prospects of their use in sub-Saharan Africa. From the study, it was evident that incorporating 4IR technologies into smart irrigation practices could significantly enhance water use efficiency, optimise crop yields, and contribute to sustainable agricultural practices. All this would eventually boost agricultural productivity and food security, in addition to empowering smallholder farmers and rural communities.

Automated smart irrigation systems however face numerous challenges, particularly during the transfer of data to the server. A study published in October last year adopted a prototype approach that would efficiently break down the many steps required to maximise smart agricultural irrigation into linear, sequential stages, where the success of each step relies on the success of the preceding one and each phase is associated with a certain goal.

Acknowledging the need to boost the adoption of agricultural technologies, and innovate existing technologies, a number of African universities such as the Veritas University in Abuja have been regularly organising debates, challenges and competitions to encourage young tech enthusiasts to play a role in shaping the agricultural landscape of the country.

On 9 February, Veritas University emerged as a winner of the third edition of the African Telecommunication Union (ATU) Africa Innovation Challenge, held in Nairobi, Kenya. Veritas University’s Software Engineering Lab won the competition with its innovative initiative focusing on providing hands-on learning experiences for young innovators. “After intense competition and rigorous evaluation across various stages, our talented students and dedicated faculty members from the Software Engineering Lab have achieved an outstanding feat,” said  Head of Department of Software Engineering of Veritas University, Dr Emmanuel Mkpojiogu.

Among the numerous innovations catalysed, one notable outcome includes the development of Smart Irrigation Systems, aimed at enhancing agricultural productivity and mitigating food shortages. The university was awarded a US$20,000 cash grant and currently stands as the African representative at the World Universities Debating Championship this year.