Helps farmers tackle climate change and market conditions

Small and marginal farmers across the State may soon be better equipped to tackle the vagaries of climate-dependent agriculture and market dynamics.

Researchers at the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) and the International Centre for Free and Open Source Software (ICFOSS) have joined hands to develop a technology-assisted system to generate detailed information on soil and agro-climatic conditions. Named Smart Agriculture, the project seeks to utilise precision farming methods to improve crop output.

The researchers are working on an IT-enabled system to provide real time data on soil and micro weather conditions. The Cloud-based platform will be based on sensors installed in each plot to keep a constant tab on different variables.

ICFOSS has developed the prototype of a solar-powered remote station for monitoring soil and atmospheric conditions. Working on Open Source hardware and software, it automatically uploads data to the Cloud.

Specific inputs

“Precision farming requires specific information on the state of the atmosphere and soil, in terms of parameters such as temperature, humidity, soil pH, rainfall, soil salinity, and wind vector (speed & direction). The data can be used to provide advisories for farmers depending on the type and age of crops they have planted,” says Satish Babu, Director, ICFOSS.

According to A.K. Sherief, Professor, Agricultural Extension, KAU, the project seeks to provide micro-level information for changes in farming practices to suit climate change and market conditions. “It also focuses on using technology to solve the labour problem, a vexatious issue in Kerala. For example, robotic farm equipment and sensor-based sprinklers that could be activated according to soil conditions could help to replace farm labour to some extent.”

The monitoring system has a field unit consisting of a network of sensors to measure soil and micro weather conditions. A micro-controller working on Open Source hardware connects networks while a credit card-sized computer-on-a-board handles GPRS-based or SMS-based connections. The station is powered by a solar charging circuit.

Mr. Babu says the system can also be used to provide market intelligence, post harvest and value addition options for the farmer. “The end result of our efforts should be well-informed, empowered farmers who are assured of remunerative price for their produce without market uncertainties.” A Cloud-based back-end provides the storage repository for the data. Experts monitoring the system can access the repository from anywhere using a mobile or laptop. ICFOSS has also developed an Android App to report pests in crops using camera and voice automation.  “Our objective is to enable easier access to information for the farmer using IT-based platforms and mobile phones or hand-held devices,” says Dr. Sherief. Mr. Babu said the prototype of the monitoring station would be revised to accommodate more sensors for better monitoring of conditions

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