Climate for change

Sensors that could help some of the most impoverished farmers in Africa maximise their crop yields are being tested at London’s Kew Gardens.


Developed by engineers at Leeds University, the sensors gather data on air temperature, humidity, air pressure, light, and soil moisture and temperature – information crucial to making key agricultural decisions about planting, fertilisation, irrigation, pest and disease control and harvesting.


They are being tested by Kew’s diploma students and staff over the next four months in the School of Horticulture’s new student vegetable garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, monitoring conditions around some typical crops.


The Leeds team has been working with two Kenyan villages to develop the technology as part of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Village E-Science for Life (VESEL) project, a collaboration of key research groups in the UK and Kenya.


‘In some areas of Kenya, localised variations in growing conditions can cause severe fluctuations in crop yields. Our part of the VESEL project is about providing the right information at the right time to farmers,’ said Prof Jaafar Elmirghani from the School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering. ‘This means they can use available water more efficiently, minimising wastage and helping to optimise their harvests to feed their families.’


The information collected by the sensors is fed back via a wireless network to a central server and then sent to agriculture experts who can provide advice to farmers based on the data collected.


During the tests at Kew, the data collected will be sent back to Leeds University, but ultimately, the management of the system will be handed over to the University of Nairobi.


The tests are expected to be completed by Autumn 2008, after which time the devices are initially to be trialled in the two Kenyan villages.