KENYA – Kenyan agri-tech startups Illuminum Greenhouses, Juhudi Kilimo and WeFarm have secured US$856,000 in grant co-funding from the UK’s innovation agency Innovate UK to develop Africa’s first solar powered smart sensors with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology.

According to Disrupt Africa, the grant funding comes from Innovate UK, which drives productivity and economic growth by supporting businesses to develop and realise the potential of new ideas, and has been secured as part of a project that also involves the UK-based Innvotek and Brunel University London.

Named SmartGFA, the project brings together experts in the area to combine advanced sensor knowhow, machine learning analytics and knowledge of local needs.

This will help them develop a low-cost greenhouse microclimate monitoring and management system that will utilise soil sensors, climate and weather information to optimise irrigation and environmental conditions for specific crops.

The system will analyse real-time information provided by soil sensors, mid-term weather information obtained from on-line service providers, climate information based on historical weather patterns

It will combine these with the specific crop needs to determine optimal watering pattern thereby maximising crop health and yield, while keeping fertiliser and water consumption to a minimum.

This novel system will therefore allow smallholder farmers to achieve high-yield greenhouse farming at low cost, increasing their food security and allowing them to move from subsistence farming to cash crops.

“Working with experts from UK and Kenya and having Innovate UK support us move our solution from prototype to market entry is a testament that local Kenyan innovation can compete globally and receive assistance with partnerships that catapult them to the digital era,” said Taita Ngetich, Illuminum Greenhouses’ chief executive officer (CEO).

“By incorporating AI and machine learning to these smart sensors, we unlock a world of unimaginable possibilities for farmers who will install these systems.

“Think about having the ability to control your farm from your mobile phone effortlessly while ordering a truck to collect your produce, to banks credit scoring farmers through sensor data and even insurance companies de-risking claims due to fool proof sensor data. The possibilities are endless.”

Shahid Mughal, Innvotek’s CEO, said Africa was experiencing unprecedented levels of growth within the agriculture technology sector.

“At Innvotek, we have an appetite for innovation and are constantly pushing the boundaries of technological advancement.

“We are keen on bringing our AI, machine learning and user interface development expertise to this project to develop a novel solution that we hope, will lead to significant increases in the production capacity for low-income, smallholder farmers in Africa and enhance UK’s competitiveness in the agricultural sector,” he said.