Ok, so you are worried that your crops often run out of moisture? This automated greenhouse will provide just enough water for your crops day and night—not more, not less. How about too high or two low temperatures and humidity? This device will keep them where you want. Could you also need light at night so your crops keep growing? At sunset, light automatically turns on for as long as your plants need it. Thabo Maibi is developing this smart greenhouse. He is the Computer Systems Engineering student at the National University of Lesotho (NUL).
Climate change is turning traditional agriculture upside-down. Fortunately, the NUL innovators are taking a note. “I grew up in a family that lived on Agric,” Maibi said. “We used to grow all staples: maize, wheat, sorghum and beans in my family. That is all gone. Now my family focuses exclusively on maize to reduce the losses.”
It is no wonder then that Thabo is plotting to change the way we farm in the 21st century.
Here are some capabilities of the laboratory-scale system, Thabo is developing and testing. It is important to note that all these capabilities happen automatically.
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You may as well consider going for a nap as the machine does the thing.
First, it offers smart irrigation.
The smart greenhouse is continually assessing the moisture in your soil. If it is below a certain value, based on the kind of crop, it automatically opens the water valve so that stored waster enters the soil. You save water because you release it only when the soil needs it.
“So whether it is Hot or Cold, Winter or Summer, Day or Night, Dark or Blue, the system keeps the right moisture on the soil, at the level you set it up to.”
Then there is temperature.
Too much temperature is as bad for your crops as too little temperature. When the temperature is above a certain value, which is too much for the crops, the system kicks in and puts the fan on to reduce it to the acceptable level.
Then same thing happens when the temperature is too low, heaters raise it just enough to the required levels.
The thinking type among you are already complaining about the use of electricity. By controlling the temperature only when it is beyond certain limits will help reduce the use of power. The idea is to avoid extremes and when the extremes are not there, the system goes to sleep. That means need to know our different plants and how much extremes they will tolerate.
“We are also going to make use insulating materials to save heat, where possible.”
Then there is humidity.
Too much of it can suffocate the plants in many ways. “In this case, we are only worried about the humidity going above a certain value. If it is too much, a fan kick-starts to control it.”
Interestingly, the system also has a light sensor and a bulb. When daylight disappears, the sensors puts on the light, “so the plants can continue to photosynthesise for as long as needed.”
We no longer wait for the light of the day for our crops to start making food again.
You may be wondering, why is the young man taking all the pains?
Thabo said in his “not so long existence on this planet,” he has seen the climate getting worse by the day. If it is not too much rain, “it is no rains at all, sometimes for months.”
If it is not too hot, “it is extremely cold.”
These extremes are driving farmers across the country really mad. You never really know what to expect these days. To plant or not to plant? You do everything at your own risk.
“Hence a need for technology.”
The problem we have had in this country and perhaps across the rest of Africa is that we have left agriculture to fate. We have left it on the hands of forces over which we have absolutely no control. We may wish it rains but we won’t control it. We may wish a moderate temperature but, lo and behold! we get the opposite.
“How about we make Agric such that it obeys our wishes?” he asked rhetorically.
Well, the system he is designing is not necessarily new. The idea is to make it and test it here in Lesotho such that we can cut cost and make it to obey our wishes. “I have been thinking about how we could create a climate-smart greenhouse using some of the basics I have learned in my course.” He said opportunity came when the NUL closed for a recess and, “I ceased the moment.”
He put his own meager resources to develop his idea at home.
Well, it’s hard to do this kind of work when there is no funding but he is dong it anyway.