By turning the cell phone into a useful tool for farmers, the Niger-based company Tech-Innov aims to end the need for manual irrigation and limit water loss in this arid African country blanketed by vast swathes of desert. Tech-Innov’s system relies on a simple technical principle and solar power.
The company’s founder, Abdou Maman Kané, is an IT technician and farmer’s son. He is a native of Zinder, the former capital of Niger, a city frequently afflicted by droughts. Undaunted by the scale of the challenge before him, Kané seems to be on the path to success. In 2013, he developed a remote irrigation system aimed at lightening the burden of watering crops and optimizing farmers’ work time. He then founded a company to commercialize it.
Having acquired experience in IT software development for businesses and public authorities in Niamey, Kané set out to help those who labor in the fields, a group typically excluded from the benefits of new technology. Over 80 percent of the active population in Niger work in the agricultural sector and live in rural areas, which are particularly affected by water scarcity. Niger has a long dry season, and access to water resources is a major challenge.
With a poverty rate of 44.1 percent and a per capita income barely more than 230,000 CFA francs (USD 413), the country is one of the world’s poorest nations, according to the World Bank. In 2016, it ranked 187 out of 188 countries on the United Nations Development Program Human Development Index.
Strictly speaking, remote irrigation is not a new technique. It enables farmers to activate the watering system for their crops from a distance, thus facilitating the task. Tech-Innov’s technology relies on two elements that are easily accessible in Niger. One is solar energy, an inexhaustible resource in this Sahelo-Saharan country, which powers the water pump. The other is a cell phone, whose use has increased widely in Africa since the beginning of this century.
The technology is simple: a control box equipped with a GSM chip is connected to the irrigation system and its network of pipes in the fields. To turn it on, a farmer taps a code into his cell phone. The cost is 200 francs, the price of a call with a surcharge. Profits are divided between Kané and the cell phone provider. The system also enables the reception and sharing of meteorological and hydrological data remotely and in real time.
This system puts an end to burdensome manual watering, and above all, to unnecessary water loss. The quantity of water released can be adjusted by the company thanks to data transmitted by nanosensors and analyzed in partnership with the University of Niamey.
An agricultural revolution
Admittedly, the price of the equipment is currently a stumbling block: 250,000 CFA francs for the application and control box, to which must be added the cost of solar panels or wind turbines to power the system. “But,” Kané claims, “the investment pays for itself within a year.”
Moreover, with support from CIPMEN, a Niger-based incubator for small and medium-size enterprises, Tech-Innov has developed partnerships with microfinance companies that help farmers come up with the initial investment fee.
Tech-Innov has received various international prizes since its founding, and the team has created new designs for other automated systems, such as a solution for watering livestock (Ruwa Rayuwa), and another for distributing drinking water in rural areas (the clean water stand).
Currently the company employs seven IT technicians and hydrologists, who are assisted by 12 subcontracting firms. Since 2013, the company has helped create skilled and unskilled jobs – from the workers installing the irrigation systems to the employees of hundreds of farms using them.
Can Abdou Maman Kané help bring about an agricultural revolution through technology? He has undoubtedly become one of the leading figures on the innovation scene in Niger. On occasion he has been invited to join the delegation of Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou at international events, such as the Transform Africa 2017 summit in Kigali, Rwanda. For now, the dedicated entrepreneur’s main focus is on working to build a bigger client base and expanding business in West Africa.
By turning the cell phone into a useful tool for farmers, the Niger-based company Tech-Innov aims to end the need for manual irrigation and limit water loss in this arid African country blanketed by vast swathes of desert. Tech-Innov’s system relies on a simple technical principle and solar power.The company’s founder, Abdou Maman Kané, is an IT technician and farmer’s son. He is a native...