Internet of Things, a technology trend that involves connected devices solving problems is gaining increasing popularity in Africa. Experts say Rwanda has the potential to benefit from the new technology.
Some local projects that apply Internet of Things (IoT) include agriculture, referred to as Smart Farming, and hardware devices connection.
Experts say IoT is a way to connect things by using different technologies so as to analyze, measure and do different things by connecting devices.
Recently, Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda hosted a panel of experts who debated various aspects of the Internet of Things (IoT) focusing on African context and the initiatives currently underway to develop innovations that leverage IoT in Africa.
Panelists who included representatives from global tech companies and academia cited agriculture as a sector that can reap from IoT in Africa.
Zain Khan, teaches the practice of ICT at Carnegie Mellon University. He says there are many ways Internet of Things in Rwanda can be applied especially in coffee farming.
“Internet of Things application will be perfect in a coffee plantation where we put sensors as to when the high grade coffee is ready, the moment it is ready it can be picked, taken to the washing station and exported,” explained Zain. Sensors are connected to computers to send useful information from the farm such as water, plant growth, quality of soil, etc.
I went to Musanzem District there were 14 or 17 farms, but there are only 3 washing stations! So the serious question is transporting them from the farming station to the washing station to the parking station, observed the lecturer.
“With the Internet of Things you know the probability of which seed is ready, especially the highly priced seed, not the local consumption ones,” explains Zain. “So once you know the exportable kind they are ready they will be prioritized to go to the washing station and get exported while they are still in the BEST condition.”
According to Zain, this will result in less wastage, more revenue per square meter of plantation, because it will get that exportable coffee faster to the washing station, parking station and export station.
In Rulindo District, there is an on-going smart farming project for tomatoes and green pepper where a computer system is connected to the farm to monitor soil fertilizers, water and temperature, and obtain other useful information to increase agricultural yield and minimize risks.
Sources close to the project have mentioned it is partly donor funded because it requires heavy investment.
Some experts say connectivity issue should be first addressed, but Khan said current network isn’t a major shortcoming to IoT application in Rwanda.
More than 4,500 kilometers of fiber optic cable has been rolled out across the country so far, with investment estimated at $120 million. The country targets 95 per cent network coverage by June 2017.
Aline Uwase, an aspiring tech entrepreneur who works on Internet of Things project for security hardware management system, has said that she hopes to use the latest technology to fight fire incidents.
“I am interested in hardware projects to address fire incidents which may be partly by poor installation,” she said. According to her, the biggest challenge local innovators face is hardware skills because the focus in mainly on software development.
Lack of devices
“We need sensors, wires, controllers, computers so those kind of devices which help us to build a given hardware and networked system. It is another challenge we face,” said Uwase.
There is no investment because it’s a new technology and no one believes in your project, added the budding entrepreneur.
She also believes farming can reap from new technology.
“In agriculture you can use IoT. For example, it allows you to know the kind of fertilizers needed by measuring the quality of soil using sensors,” explains Uwase.
“With IoT you monitor the life cycle of your crops,” Uwase noted.
Cover image from courtesy of energyworx.com.