Low cost solution for hydroponic farms in South Africa and Mozambique

Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS is developing a new project under the Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) Competence Center. Focused on the South African farmers, the primary goal of the Assistive Environment for Hydroponic Farming is to create a low cost mechanism for mobile monitoring of hydroponic farms.

Hydroponic farming is a mean of precision agriculture where plants are grown in mineral nutrient solution instead of soil. This type of farming became relevant in South Africa, since it offers a controlled environment, making urban farming more practicable means agriculture. Market gardening based urban farming is increasing, becoming a major contributing practice to food security in South Africa. The effective management of hydroponic farming requires constant monitoring of inside and outside parameters: monitoring temperature, humidity, turbidity of the nutrients' solution, watering, among others. Currently, the whole process of monitoring the conditions in the hydroponic environment is done by manual systems, which are time consuming, labor intense and prone to inaccuracies.

The Assistive Environment for Hydroponic Farming project, led by Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS, aims precisely to reduce the costs involved in this process by creating a new, low cost solution. The project aims to analyze the requirements of hydroponic farms in South Africa and Mozambique and suitably develop a mobile solution for farmers in order to improve the level of management, control and production of hydroponic farms. This approach makes it possible for farmers to get to know the conditions in the hydroponic farm without physically visiting the farm, thus saving time and reducing labor intensity while collecting accurate data.

The development of this project should result in a prototype of a Wireless Sensor Node (WSN) based on android application to accurately monitor the essential variables for optimal plant growth in hydroponic environments. Results of prototype implementation are expected during mid-2015. The system is estimated to maximize crop yield while utilizing minimum resources. Globally, the initiative aims to boost farming markets and food security in developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

This project is being developed in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), in South Africa. A "happy marriage" as the NMMU refers to in an article published online.

In this scope, Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS will welcome one PhD graduate from South Africa to coordinate the project and two MSc students which will have the opportunity to work on aspects of the project related to their research thesis.

The Assistive Environment for Hydroponic Farming project is part of the framework of ICT4D Competence Center (ICT4D-CC), with reference “Projeto n.º NORTE-07-0124-FEDER-000042”, co-financed by the Regional Operational Program of the North (ON.2), in accordance with the National Strategic Reference Framework (QREN), through the European Regional Development Fund (FEDER).