The E-Village project, which has the potential to digitalize and therefore revolutionize the way agriculture is being practiced in Bangladesh, is all set to start production of its first sensor device following the successful completion of the pilot phase.
The device uses a number of simple sensors or probes to collect real time data on moisture, air temperature and health of leaves and passes that data within seconds on to smartphones via Bluetooth connection.
It is a brainchild of a group of enterprising computer scientists from the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University (BSMRAU) in Gazipur near Dhaka. The project is being run with support from Young Bangla, its secretariat Centre for Research and Information (CRI), and the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China.
Members of Young Bangla, one of the biggest networks of youth in Bangladesh, are actively working as field level volunteers of the project at the field level, helping to train farmers on using the device. In addition, the E-Village project is also leveraging the connections of Young Bangla’s wide network of young university teachers.
“It has always been what we saw with our bare eyes. But now, thanks to the sensor devices, we don’t have to guess anything. The data tells us how much fertilizer to put where, and when,” said Md Zakir Hossain, one of the 15 vegetable growers from the Pajulia village in Gazipur who took part in the six-month pilot phase.
What makes this even more effective is an online mechanism to avail real-time advice from experienced agriculturalists at the BSMRAU.
“One farmer [from the pilot project] recently consulted us about the health of his plants. After analyzing the data collected by the sensor device, we told him that the leaves are in perfect health and can now be harvested,” said Mijanur Rahman Rajib, a scientist at the central laboratory of BSMRAU.
Initially, most of the 15 farmers, who took part in the project, found it hard to get a start. None of them are very educated and hence found the information presented in English difficult to understand and the devices tough to handle. Eventually, however, with a bit of training and support from the E-Village team, the farmers got a grip and are now using it with ease.
“The device has a probe that checks the health of the leaves. Now we know what to do well before the onset of a diseases,” said Momena, of the 15 participants from the Pajulia village.
It has another probe that, when inserted into the soil, collects information about the level of moisture.
“Now we know when to spread water and fertilizer in the field, and when not to,” said Md Mamun, another participant.
Md Anamul Haque, another researcher of the project, said: “This device collects data from the soil, the air, sunlight, and the environment and combines them into useful output for the farmer. For example, when inserted into the soil, the blunt probe collects information on moisture level in terms of relative humidity.”
Initially, BSMRAU plans to sell device to farmers for Tk5,000. Although happy with the success of the pilot phase, the project officials think the challenge now is to keep it affordable for the poor farmers all across Bangladesh.
“Currently, the system runs on two devices – the sensor and a smartphone. Our plan is to come up with an integrated solution – just one hand-held device,” said Prof Dr Md Roshidul Hassan, leader of the E-Village project and also the head of the computer science department at BSMRAU.
Reputed Chinese technology firm, iSoftStone, has developed the device and the mobile application for this project. Project officials said they are trying to bring out the first lot of production of this device by the end of 2018.