Mobile tech helps farmers save time, water, electricity

An innovation from an India-based company may transform the way farmers manage their irrigation systems by giving them the ability to turn pumps on and off remotely with their cell phones.

Akram Shahid/Reuters/File
Boys play in tubes leading to a well-water reservoir used for irrigation in the nearby fields in Hyderabad, India. An innovative product designed in India allows farmers to check on and control their irrigation equipment remotely by cell phone, saving both water and electricity.

Managing irrigation pumps and water systems is a difficult and costly task for many farmers in developing countries.

The amount of time and energy farmers spend watering their crops often compromises time that could otherwise be used for family and community obligations. It also compromises their safety at night, when they are most vulnerable to animal predators.

A new innovation from the India-based company Ossian Agro Automation, called Nano Ganesh, seeks to transform the way farmers manage their water systems by giving them the freedom to turn pumps on and off, from any location, with their mobile phone.

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Santosh Ostwal, cofounder of Nano Ganesh, created mobile-based technology that gives farmers the flexibility to remotely switch water pumps on and off from any distance using cell phones or landlines. Ostwal, an electrical engineer by trade, had a personal connection to the plight of farmers. After observing the hardships his 82-year-old grandfather faced in tending his farm and monitoring the availability of electricity to operate water pumps, he began to construct a remote control that farmers could use within 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of the farm.

He later modified the remote control by expanding its range to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). In 2008 Ostwal altered the technology so that it could function over an unlimited range granting farmers the flexibility to start and stop the flow of water from anywhere there is a mobile connection.

Nano Ganesh also allows farmers to check the availability of electricity to the pump and verify the on and off status of its operation. Both of these features offer cost-saving benefits to farmers who otherwise may not be able to shut their pumps off before their fields have become overly saturated.

This is important for two reasons. One is that overwatering can lead to soil erosion and nutrient depletion. The second reason is that the inability to remotely shut off water pumps leads to unintentional water and electricity waste.

With the help of Nano Ganesh farmers will be able to conserve water and electricity more effectively. This will minimize the environmental and financial costs of farming. In fact, the product description suggests that farmers can recover the cost of the technology in just 11 days from the water and electricity savings it will produce.

So far, Nano Ganesh has assisted 10,000 farmers in India, and it is now being used in Australia and Egypt. The innovation received international recognition from the Global Mobile Awards in 2010 and Nokia’s Calling All Innovators Contest in 2009. Nano Ganesh has also received acknowledgement from several institutions in India, including the Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture.

• Sarah Alvarez is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project. To purchase "State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet" please click HERE.

• This article first appeared at Nourishing the Planet, a blog published by the Worldwatch Institute.

• Sign up to receive a weekly selection of practical and inspiring Change Agent articles by clicking here.

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