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WIHA (Water Irrigation Help for Agriculture)

WIHA is a lean tool for farmers to manage water in order to avoid useless consumes while efficiently growing their crops.

Photo of agromet team

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EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

WIHA is a soil water balance model tailored on farmer needs, to assess irrigation in farms and to manage water in the best way. The system is centred on a server where weather daily data, 1-week forecasts, soil and crop data are stored and where WIHA model runs.WIHA can rely on the existing meteorological network that feeds the model by transferring data via GPRS to the server at the WIHA manager’s computing centre. Due to the integration in the model of the observed weather data and forecasts, the final user receives soil moisture and plant water stress updating. To maintain the system, a WIHA manager with local agronomical and basic IT expertise, has to be trained to engage and interact with farmers to define the crops of major interest; to check the data flow from the meteorological network and the server and to setup the case studies for farmers. Once the system is implemented, farmers will be able to efficiently dose the watering of their crops via SMS delivering simple calculation on the water balance. WIHA as a whole is easily scalable and applied wherever basic environmental data are collected. In the Amplify Program a beta version of the system for a pilot area in Ethiopia will be implemented to calibrate and to tune it. Periodical severe droughts affect Ethiopia, thus a rational use of water becomes crucial. Furthermore, water availability knowledge in small farms leads to a wise water management and, as a consequence, more water will be available for other uses.

WHO BENEFITS?

WIHA helps farms/authorities in controlling water and get effective info for land management. WIHA supports decision making in case of drought and makes people aware of plant water needs. Economic (money saving by avoiding water waste) and environmental (less energy requirement for water extraction and delivery) advantages helps social development in rural areas. The pilot will be example of best practice in water management for other regions due to its easy scalability and low-cost maintainance

WHERE WILL YOUR IDEA BE IMPLEMENTED?

Ethiopia; we will test the system in a pilot area identified within an Ethiopian rural district.

ARE YOU IMPLEMENTING IN AN ELIGIBLE COUNTRY?

  • Yes

EXPERTISE IN SECTOR

  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for over a year

EXPERIENCE IN IMPLEMENTATION COUNTRY(IES)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

TELL US MORE ABOUT YOU!

Agromet:Italian start up providing agro-meteorological services Computer Aid International:the oldest and most experienced enabler in technology for development (ICT4D).Experience in Ethiopia (Amhara Region) Arpae-ER: Regional Agency for Prevention, Environment and Energy of Emilia-Romagna (Italy)

IS THIS IDEA NEW FOR YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION?

Agromet, in collaboration with Arpae, has already implemented the WIHA service to support irrigation and water management in farms located in different parts of Europe. In the past applications of the service the results (i.e. the supporting updates on the soil moisture and plant water stress) were exclusively shared with the technical team of the local agricultural authorities. In the current implementation of the project, with the support of Computer Aid, we are directing our service right to the end users - the small-scale farmers. Whenever the algorithm detects useful information, the system will automatically send decision supporting information (e.g. via SMS) to the participant farmers delivering simple calculations on their crop water needs. For WIHA this opportunity is the first benchmark implemented in a developing country. The challenge is to make the results of the system clear and effective without losing important information.

HOW IS YOUR IDEA UNIQUE?

The uniqueness of our idea is given by the simplicity in the implementation, replication and scalability of the process. Indeed the system only relies on a weather network, a short term forecast and the knowledge of few and common information about crop and soil avoiding any data acquisition from field devices. No other data inputs are required. Once the WIHA manager is trained, the system works with routine maintenance and without any external support. The algorithms are written in C++ language so that WIHA is independent from any software and operative system licence. Furthermore the architecture of WIHA is low-cost and long-lasting. Through WIHA we offer a solution to the global problem of water management in agriculture, one that is only destined to intensify due to global warming. Thanks to the project we can expand our service to achieve a broader target of beneficiaries of WIHA beyond the technicians of land reclamation authorities. The feedbacks from WIHA users will be crucial to test and upgrade the system by identifying new challenges and implementing the correlated solutions.

WHO WILL IMPLEMENT THIS IDEA?

Arpae provides the algorithms to compute the crop water needs. Agromet manages the input-output procedures to feed the models and to return the supporting information via a web interface, SMS and vocal messages. Agromet sets up WIHA and trains the WIHA system managers in loco. Computer Aid carries out the project management and connection with the pilot area in Ethiopia. Other players of WIHA are the local public authorities involved in agrometeorological duties as data providers.

HOW HAS YOUR IDEA CHANGED BECAUSE OF BENEFICIARY FEEDBACK?

We conducted a survey to a sample of local farmers and expert agronomists. The general feedback was positive and well receptive to the irrigation service proposed, confirming the perceived need for it. Some useful tips have been made and we are now working to include them to better tailor it to the local users. In the first idea we thought to deliver irrigation information via SMS or PC interface. Our respondents proposed to add the option of registered vocal messages (IVR technology) to include among the beneficiaries even those less technologically equipped or visually impaired. From this suggestion we also realized the importance of setting up a WIHA info point: a hub where farmers can access all detailed results. The WIHA manager would be in charge of displaying the data –either on screen or on paper- as well as provide a direct expert opinion. We also realized that one of the most common irrigation methods used is the furrow one. The model will therefore be designed to also include this low-efficiency technique. Furthermore, as pointed by one of the interviewed farmers, to better assess the soil moisture, WIHA water balance will also include the watertable depth.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS IDEA?

In the pilot WIHA project the interaction with farmers is one-directional: the system provides water support information but at the moment it is not taking in account - as input data - the actual irrigation volume distributed by farmers. The pilot implementation simplifies the soil water balance by assuming that plants are in sub-optimal conditions (i.e. in absence biotic and abiotic stresses). Crop yield assessment/forecast is also not inserted in this pilot.

WHY DO YOU THINK THE PROBLEM YOUR IDEA SOLVES FOR HASN'T BEEN SOLVED YET?

Several variables need to be monitored in order to assess the actual crop water needs. Many systems try to solve this issue by providing estimations based on field devices that need maintenance and elaborations to provide reliable outputs. Instead of overloading farmers with the time and expenses needed to run field measurements, WIHA is actually providing a rational irrigation management system by simply matching agro meteorological algorithms with already existing environmental data.

WHAT WOULD YOU ULTIMATELY LIKE TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS IDEA? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP TO GET THERE?

In the long term WIHA will be scaled up to entire agricultural districts. At this scale, by providing a global scenario of water requirements for agriculture, WIHA becomes an effective decision tool for local authorities who deal with water resources. Thus, WIHA is also an adaptation measure to tackle environmental issues linked to climate change such as drought.

MEMBERS OF MY TEAM HAVE BEEN WORKING TOGETHER FOR:

  • Less than 6 months

MY INTENDED BENEFICIARIES ARE:

  • More than 500 km from where our team does most of its work

MY ORGANIZATION'S OPERATING BUDGET FOR 2015 WAS:

  • Under $100,000

WIHA is a simple operative tool that gives daily information to farmers, via SMS, about actual crop irrigation needs for their fields, on the basis of a soil water balance fed by observed weather data.

The information about crop irrigation is provided by a simple water balance that needs as input: crop information, soil data, daily-observed meteorological data from weather stations and 1-week weather forecasts. The integration of the latter into the system is one of the strengths of WIHA because it allows a wise management of water, in terms of natural resources and irrigation scheduling (see the picture). On the basis of these daily updated inputs, the soil water balance computes the actual crop water needs.

As first pilot, we will apply WIHA in an agricultural district to calibrate the system. Local authorities will be consulted to provide basic information about cropping system and soil and a WIHA manager will be appointed to setup the case studies and to carry out a periodical check of the system in a dedicated computing centre. Specific case studies for the staple crops (sorghum, maize, sugarcane, millet, etc.) of the area will be implemented. The WIHA manager and local farmers will work collaboratively to collect information about crop, match them with the FAO database (http://www.fao.org/agriculture/seed/cropcalendar/welcome.do) and set up realistic case studies where the crop information is tuned on the local reality. Once finalized the system has the great advantage to be semi-automatic and will continue operational activity with routine maintenance.

The WIHA irrigation suggestion to farmers will be provided in two formats: 1) printed or electronically accessible from any computer connected to the system or directly at the data centre where the WIHA manager is stationed; 2) via sms.

In order to provide effective and useful data to small holder farmers, the irrigation information will be formatted in a proper and practical unit of measure easy to interpret and apply.

All calculation modules are written in C++ language. Two reasons justify this choice: 1) it is a low level language, so that calculations are much faster and the computing centre will not need too much processing power to run; 2) this language will continue to be supported by many compilers for long time.

18 comments

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Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Agromet team!

The Amplify team and our experts have some feedback for you:

My biggest concern is around the interaction with farmers being one-directional. Not considering variables (like the irrigation volume distributed by farmers), but instead making assumptions about the plants conditions, could lead to inaccurate irrigation recommendations.

Accurate measurement of water applied in rural areas per cycle is a big challenge to be addressed as well.

What have you learned about the literacy levels of farmers and their ability to interact with a service like this one?

Evapotranspiration is relatively high in Africa. How do you plan to modify your existing product to account for conditions that may be different than in Europe? 

Looking forward to learning more! 

Photo of agromet team
Team

Dear Chioma,

the alpha version was thought to verify that the system is working as standalone tool. A further improvement has to include the interaction with farmers/consortia, where they will provide the actual irrigation volumes that will be included into the water balance. This follow up is technically feasible, nevertheless it requires additional costs and time to be implemented.
In WIHA we suppose that plant are in sub-optimal status so that they require the maximal water need.

If plants are not in such a condition our output has to be considered as an upper-bound, i.e. a precaution threshold to not exceed.


In the last weeks farmers from Oromia - the Ethiopian region where we plan to implement the system - filled out a preliminary survey from which we noticed a familiar use of the technology proposed in WIHA. Besides the SMS, they also asked to use IVR technology as an alternative way to receive WIHA data. Moreover in the test area the cell phone is a widespread technology ( TADESSE & BAHIIGWA, 2014, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2014.12.010 ).
We got also answers about the best way to deliver information in terms of measure units and timing.


In order to simplify the farmer interpretation of outputs we started to talk with Simon M. Holland https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/agricultural-innovation/ideas/talisman-a-shining-light-for-small-holder-farmers , who is proposing a smart visual way to present the criticalities in crop production focusing on plant diseases. We think it could be developed a similar idea for irrigation, including the actual phenological stage and irrigation method.


Assessment of evapotranspiration by means of WIHA is computed through empirical or physically-based formulas also accepted by FAO ( http://www.kimberly.uidaho.edu/water/fao56/fao56.pdf ) which take into account the geographical position of the pilot in order to assess the actual incoming radiation so that the method is applicable worldwide. The input data are observed variables, making the calculation free from local tables of empirical parameters.


Don't hesitate to contact us for any further question

Kind regards

Agromet team

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Very helpful, thank you! Could you tell us a bit about Computer Aid's experience with small holder farmers in Ethiopia?

Also, what inspired you to choose Ethiopia as the place to pilot this idea outside of Europe?

Photo of agromet team
Team

Computer Aid International has an experience of over 18 years in helping communities in more than 113 countries to directly access the technology they need to transform areas that are critical to them, including: agriculture, healthcare, education, environmental protection and gender rights.

By working with local partners, we are able to provide computers across a variety of sectors. To contribute in advancing the agricultural sector, we have provided computers to weather stations in
Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Mozambique enabling thousands of farmers to improve crop production, local food security and gain up-to-date knowledge of fair trade standards.

Despite not having worked with small holder farmers in Ethiopia in the recent years, we have been working in the country since the early days and we are currently deploying the second year of funding towards an educational project covering 25 districts in the Amhara Region. The project consolidated our partnership with the Regional Development Association that is also developing agricultural projects and can offer insights and contacts in the sector.
Similarly in the Oromia Region, we are in conversation with one of the leading figures of another local organisation working to improve agriculture, health and nutrition. They expressed an interest in the WIHA project and they have facilitated the preliminary survey stage with the small holder farmers. 

I hope this respond to your question and please let us know if further information are required.

Many thanks

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Thanks so much! If we have other questions, we will definitely follow up! 

Photo of Joy Larson
Team

Hello,

It is great to see connections with other ideas/organizations being made through the comments!

I am curious how reliable the forecasts are in your project area in Ethiopia? Also, in some rural areas weather data can be hard to come by.

With the goal of scaling up in the future and covering more remote areas, have you given any thought to how to supplement poor data quality or poor forecast skill to provide recommendations that are still reliable? (I understand that this might be beyond the scope of this pilot project, I'm just curious!)

Thank you and good luck in the challenge!

Photo of agromet team
Team

Hello Joy,
thanks for your interesting comments.

The National Meteorological Agency (NMA) of Ethiopia
is currently running up to date weather forecasts models (see http://www.ethiomet.gov.et/nwp_models/nwp_index).

The NMA has also an existing weather station network, that monitors observed weather variables
and these data could be integrated in WIHA.

In case of areas where observed data are lacking, different solutions can be adopted.
For instance, the project TAHMO (http://tahmo.org/) is creating an African weather station network,
a smart solution will be to integrate these data on WIHA.

Another technical solution could be the implementation of a grid fed by interpolated data.
The use of the grid presents two advantages:
- by means of algorithms we can assess also sites far away from stations;
- in this way it is assured continuity of weather series in time and space.

Kind regards!
Agromet team

Photo of sensheng
Team

I think it is a good idea and it can connect with the water shortages in some counties. But I also have some question about how the small-scare farmers can accept your hole systems, as it looks so expensive.

Photo of agromet team
Team

Hi Sensheng, 
thanks for your feedback. Our system is thought to be lean and low cost. Indeed if the meteorological network is already established in the region, the WIHA implementation costs are reasonable. The costs are due to: installation of the system in a server or in cloud, a new web interface, pluging of the SMS delivery system. In addition further few costs are due to local trainings and system maintainance. The system is economically affordable for cooperatives or for groups of farmers. If you have further questions or concerns please write us again.
Best regards,
Agromet team

Photo of Dr Simon M Holland
Team

Hi,

Seems, this project has really great scope.

Best luck.

Simon

https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/agricultural-innovation/ideas/talisman-a-shining-light-for-small-holder-farmers

Photo of agromet team
Team

Hello Simon, thanks for writing us. I looked up your project. I think we could have interesting interactions about water issues and irrigation systems. A proper irrigation information can be provided with respect to irrigation methods and crop phenological stage. A visual explanation could be a smart solution to deliver an easily understandable support.
Would you like to follow the discussion with us?
Best regards,
Agromet team 

Photo of An Old Friend
Team

Hi Agromet, I think it could be great to get a 3D description of water dynamics in order to better reproduce hill and mountain rural realities. Is it feasible by means of WIHA?  

Photo of agromet team
Team

Dear Antonio, your suggestion seems to be interesting. The WIHA project is not thought at the moment to deal with a 3D description. We can talk about how to improve these skills of our algorithms. Please note that a 3D description requires a cumbersome amount of additional computation, so that you should limit these applications to small catchments. WIHA works through daily data, probably to incrase precision you should also consider hourly data to better describe water dynamics.  We are glad to share our experience to develop new projects.   

Photo of Vegetable Resource Centre
Team

Hello Agromet Team,
VRC likes your idea. Could we explore ways your model can be adopted for our project? 

Photo of Vegetable Resource Centre
Team

You can read more at https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/agricultural-innovation/beneficiary-feedback/resource-centre-for-small-holder-vegetable-farmers

Photo of agromet team
Team

Dear VRC, our system WIHa is flexible and we think it can fit on your project. We think that, by means of WIHA, we could undertake two main actions. If you have weather data (daily temperature and rainfall) and information about cropping system (staple crops, soil properties and irrigation systems) on a pilot area, we could set up a test. A further development of WIHA can include a geographical version of the system. This can address to the regional management of water. 
Furthermore if climatic data are available we could run a feasibility study in order to understand the adaptability of crops to the study area.
Let us know if our ideas can fit with your project

Agromet

Photo of Vegetable Resource Centre
Team

This is a good idea. VRC thinks it will fit well with our project. Besides us providing first-hand information about vegetables farming, your idea could come in handy to provide information on other factors that might affect farming. We think this will be a nice blend if well integrated in our project. Is WIHA a new project or it is already running?

Photo of agromet team
Team

Hi, it could be really nice to connect our ideas!  The WIHA project is a novelty in terms of implementation  in Ethiopia. What's new is the location of the project and the mean by which send information to final users (SMS). Nevertheless we have experience about water irrigation modelling and weather data acquisition and elaboration. Moreover in these months we are working in a Horizon2020 EU-project  named Moses to forecast the irrigation water needs in several places in Morocco and within the EU. The algorithms for computing water needs are ready to use and our platform is in some parts reusable for other projects. We mainly program in C++ and php languages based on the needs of projects. Let's keep in contact!