Dialog and Universities of Ruhuna and Moratuwa spearhead next-gen solutions for smallholder farmers

Tuesday, 30 October 2018 01:23 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Dialog and the Universities of Ruhuna and Moratuwa develop an automated controlled environment system 

for smallholder farmers 


In a combined effort to provide Sri Lankan smallholder farmers with an affordable solution for protecting crop yields from adverse weather and other negative conditions, Dialog Axiata PLC, Sri Lanka’s premier connectivity provider, has partnered with the University of Ruhuna and the University of Moratuwa to develop and take to market a localised, automated protected house agriculture automation system.

Though agriculture employs 33% of the workforce in Sri Lanka, the sector contributes to only 9% of Sri Lankan Gross Domestic Product (GDP) due to emerging concerns such as land fragmentation and degradation and harvest losses due to increasingly adverse climatic phenomena, compounded by pests and disease damage. To combat this, Dialog has joined hands with the Universities of Ruhuna and Moratuwa to develop a system 10 times more affordable than current market solutions with recommendations fine-tuned for the Sri Lankan context. This affordable, climate-smart, protected agriculture system optimises environmental control (humidity, temperature, soil moisture, pH level etc.) and is expected to increase yields by 130%-200%, while reducing labour requirements and management effort. 

Speaking on the agricultural breakthrough, Dialog Axiata PLC Group Chief Innovation Officer Anthony Rodrigo said, “With high costs of production and low productivity in an agricultural sector dominated by smallholder farmers, the partners want to build on the success of Dialog’s Govi Mithuru/Uzhavar Thozhan service counting over 550,000 farmers. This partnership with the University of Ruhuna and the University of Moratuwa focuses on a similar affordability target in developing an innovative IoT platform in line with Dialog’s vision of enriching and enhancing Sri Lankan lives and enterprises”

Additionally, under a recently signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the University of Ruhuna, Dialog and the University will work to develop a knowledge base of crop recommendations. The Dialog-University of Moratuwa Mobile Communications Research Laboratory has designed and developed low-cost IoT-enabled sensors and actuators for the automation aspects of the solution. These sensors and actuators will be connected via the Internet of Things (IoT) and will allow farmers to monitor and control activities via any smart device. Further support for farmers include real-time, accessible agriculture know-how for regular operation (fertilizer application, water management, pest and disease identification etc.) available on their smart device. 

Professor K.L. Wasantha Kumara, Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ruhuna said, “The Universities at present have realised the importance of engaging with private sector partners to provide complementary services and expertise, and to share the costs and risks of education. Therefore, the Faculty of Agriculture has already developed strong collaborations with a number of private sector organisations in the country, Dialog Axiata being one of them.” He continued, “With this understanding, the collaborative approach with three parties, the University of Ruhuna, Dialog Axiata and the University of Moratuwa to introduce an automated protected house system with real-time data control, coupled with wireless technologies, allow increased crop productivity through recording and adapting to environmental conditions inside the greenhouse. The system is going to be farmer affordable, ensuring its wider usage and popularity among farming communities in the country.”

Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, University of Moratuwa, Prof. Nalin Wickramarachchi speaking on this effort said, “I am happy to see technology developed in the University with the local expertise and knowhow being taken out of the laboratory for the benefit of people in the country. Collaborating with the University of Ruhuna has given us the much-needed domain expertise in an application area such as agriculture. Dialog Axiata has led the effort with their keen interest in sustainability and their state-of-the-art IoT platform. Contributions from each of these partners helped us develop a farmer-friendly product that would not have been achieved otherwise with the application of technology alone.”