The challenge with rain-fed agriculture, which more than 90% of smallholders in Malawi depend upon, is similar to the problem faced by smallholders around the world: rain is not predictable. Some years the rains start and finish early before crops get a chance to mature. In others, infrequent but intense off cycle rains lead to flooding, again reducing the predictability and quality of output.
In order to address these challenges, the Malawi government and NGOs are setting up irrigation schemes. The Ngolowindo Horticultural Cooperative Society is one of the schemes that the government set up in Salima using a canal irrigation system. The problem with this system is that it uses a lot of water, and there is no way for farmers to tell if their plants are receiving too little or too much water. Canal irrigation also tends to water very unevenly, resulting in inconsistent yields and irregular growth patterns.
We're exploring ways that simple moisture sensors might be able to give farmers better feedback on plant health, save irrigation water, and help them design canals that can deliver water more efficiently.