A consortium of businesses and researchers has developed a micro-irrigation system for small farmers in India that could reduce over-extraction of water, improve crop yields and save money.
The SCORRES project, which stands for smart control of rural renewable energy and storage, is led by Heriot-Watt University. It involves machine learning and artificial intelligence business Auraventi, social enterprise Scene Connect, educators for sustainability Findhorn Foundation College, sustainable living developers Auroville Consulting, and India’s Auroville Centre for Scientific Research.
An aim to optimise watering
SCORRES has run trials at a small farm in Tamil Nadu, India, with funding through the Energy Catalyst.
With an aim of optimising watering, the trials combined automated micro-irrigation techniques, solar pumps, highly-localised weather forecasting and machine-learning.
The trials saw some significant results, including reduced water and energy use of up to 80% and doubling of some crop yields.
Its system could go some way in helping rural, small farms in India to better manage their water use.
The Energy Catalyst supports business and research to address major challenges in the energy sector. Funding is provided by Innovate UK and partners including the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for International Development and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
Cutting water use saves money and improves revenue
Using the correct amount of water should mean increases in revenue for farmers by improving their crop yields, while also creating savings by reducing the leaching of compost or fertiliser.
Automating the irrigation process also produces further savings in labour.
New funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council will see more crop trials carried out on other farms. This will incorporate new crops such as rice and bananas.
Once those trials are complete, SCORRES hopes to come forward with a prototype commercial proposition for Indian farmers.
The consortium believes its system could have a payback period of as little as 2 years. Part of its work has included exploring funding models for small Indian farmers who have little or no capital to invest in equipment.
Partners form company to exploit results
The next stage is to form a company that will hold the intellectual property from the project and take it through to commercialisation.
In addition to southern and central India, there has been interest in the system from China.
Dr Andrew Peacock, a research associate at Heriot-Watt University, said:
Everybody’s contributed greatly to the project. It’s been a true partnership.
We are all very excited about the prospects of taking a commercial product into the field that will genuinely make the farmers’ lives better in India and solve a pressing issue of massive over-extraction of the groundwater.
The project’s potential has been recognised with the resource innovation and water management awards at the Rushlight Awards.