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Now IoT feeds communities

Using less than 1% of land resources than cattle, aquaponics may be the solution to feeding communities, writes BRYAN TURNER.



Advanced analytics are being used to automate fish aquaponic operations and boost nutrition for rural communities, with a little help from the Internet of Things (IoT).

Smart aquaponics, using a combination of IoT technologies and EOI (Enterprise Operational Intelligence), came to town last week, when Swedish enterprise software company IFS and agriculture company Matsei Technologies and Consulting demonstrated the technology in Johannesburg.

“Almost 7 million people in South Africa go to bed hungry every night,” said Mohamed Cassoojee, MD and country manager of IFS SA, “We have malnutrition on the one side and obesity on the other. The problem is the people getting the wrong nutrition.”

Aquaponics, a closed system for growing plants and raising fish, is the name of the game for Matsei. “Although aquaponics have been tested in rural areas, the operation needs to be a 24/7 solution,” said Leon Van Deventer, director and executive member for Matsei Technologies and Consulting. 

“We have found that it’s not that difficult to cultivate starch. The problem comes with red meat: it’s expensive, even for the middle class.”

This is where IFS comes in. 

The company offers solutions which enable data control and IoT deployment. “We need to place IoT sensors on all the points of control to ensure that control centre can be notified of any issues,” said Van Deventer.

These IoT sensors can be used in two ways: for reaction and for prediction. When used for reaction, sensors can control parts of the plant when conditions are sub-optimal or harmful to the process. For example, a pH IoT sensor will shut off a pump if the water is too acidic for the fish. A temperature IoT sensor will cool or heat water to get it to the right temperature.

For prediction, the sensor data is recorded about the conditions before and after reactionary events and relayed those in the control room. This ensures that reactionary events are less likely to occur in future.

“We are proposing a project that uses less land resources,” said Cassoojee, “The system will be producing protein and vegetables through a closed system. Sustainability is the goal – to grow fish and vegetables, creating jobs, and feeding people. These systems use 1% of land required for beef or cattle farming.”

The vision of IFS is to build sustainable communities through this digital farming programme. it aims to change the outlook on farming and agriculture business ownership, as well as to grow supply chains spanning food production, logistics, retail, and other support services. 

“Our models have to change,” said Van Deventer. “Think of it as an Uber for logistics. If we make use of existing resources like taxis that are always on the go [for logistics], we can accomplish a lot more.”

“The skills that we develop need to have jobs waiting on the other side,” said Mpho Matsitse, senior value advisor at IFS. “Nowadays, we aren’t talking about employment where you have your job and you do it and that’s it. Now is the time for continual growth. A lot of the youth is channelled into schooling or being an entrepreneur, which is not for everyone.

“We are offering a low-to-high skilled training operation, which drives job creation for those who don’t fit into schools or starting a business. It also opens up opportunities for start-ups to participate if they need to.”

Cassoojee said: “We believe that the proposed programme addresses one of our gravest challenges in South Africa, nutrition and self-sustenance, allowing technology to be a catalyst and a key value enabler to unlocking the potential we have in addressing our own social ills.“