During our research we learned about a method recently developed by IRRI, that implies lowering irrigation water consumption in rice fields, called Alternate Wetting and Drying irrigation. In AWD the field is alternately flooded and not flooded, resulting in more rice grain yield per hectare, less harm to the environment, reduction in irrigation cost and potentially a lower incidence of mosquito-borne diseases.
Currently, farmers constantly monitor the depth of ponded water on the field using a field water tube and a meter. Once the water drops under certain level below the soil surface they irrigate again. This “analog sensor “ captured our attention, and we started thinking about the potential of making this practice smart. Besides simplifying the monitoring process for farmers, once we start collecting data on AWD, it's possible to get a better understanding on the water needed for irrigation according to the correlation between different soil types, weather and crop growth stage. This can lead to better strategies for organizing irrigation within a scheme, and the development of automatic AWDI systems. There are also opportunities for AWD impact tracking, crossing data with yields quality and Malaria and Japanese encephalitis outbreaks in the region.
To test this idea we developed a prototype that uses a liquid sensor, GPS and a SD card to track water levels across several fields over time. We want to experiment with different types of feedback for the farmers, starting by a simple color indicator, red – Time to irrigate!, green – OK, and blue - Over flooded; to potentially integrating the device with feature phones via text messages.
We're excited to go to the field to test our prototypes! Stay tuned, we will be sharing our learnings on the road.