Indonesian cocoa farmers are hoping IoT can help their crops survive climate...

Indonesian cocoa farmers are hoping IoT can help their crops survive climate change

Cocoa farmers are hoping IoT help crops survive climate change

The advantages of IoT in business are becoming better understood with each passing day. Farming is emerging as one of the early, surprising adopters of the technology, even in some of the most remote parts of the world.

In a proof-of-concept study that was published on its website last week, open-source IoT and M2M platform provider Libelium reveals how some cocoa farmers in Indonesia are now using 50 of its wireless Waspmote sensors and Libelium Meshlium gateway in conjunction with cloud analytics to improve cocoa production and profit margins in the face of climate change, which is a growing threat to their business.

The Spanish firm, named a Gartner ‘Cool Vendor’ in embedded software and systems last year, said that Singapore-based IoT solution provider BioMachines designed a wireless sensor network system, integrating its Waspmote Smart Agriculture sensors to measure environmental parameters in the cocoa fields of tropical Indonesia.

These sensors collect environmental data from the laboratory and field-based experiments, such as on temperature, humidity, Photo-synthetically active radiation (PAR) and soil water potential. There is also NFC tags on trees.

This data is subsequently passed onto the cocoa farmers and it is hoped that this information could contribute to the development of pest-resistant cocoa clones, the learning and sharing new techniques to revive old and damaged trees, and the prevention of deforestation – all of which are hampering cocoa production.

All of this is optimising production, enhancing the commercial viability of the cocoa supply chain and – with this monitoring all done remotely – making logistics a little easier too.

“The Internet of Things (IoT) solves one of the major challenges of access, via remote monitoring systems. The Indonesian cocoa farms and research stations are located in far-flung areas that previously required experts to travel for days in arduous conditions to access the field and the data,” reads the blog post.

This project, as part of Indonesia’s Sustainable Cocoa Production Program (SCPP), saw BioMachines work with a client organization to transform a remote site into a Smart Cocoa research station that monitors environmental parameters.

Indonesia is said to be the third largest cocoa producer in the world, with the vast majority of this production coming from small family-run farms.

However, despite the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) predicting that cocoa demand will exceed supply by 2020, Indonesia is struggling to keep up; the Indonesian Cocoa Association (ASKINDO) says that the country produced 450,000 tons of cocoa beans last year – significantly down from 620,000 tons in 2006. Worse still, the association predicts a further 11 percent decline in production this year.

NFC tags on trees
NFC tags on trees

A key contributor to this decline, and a reason why IoT is so important, is climate change. Farms are plagued by aging trees are prone to pests and diseases, as well as a lack of scientific knowledge and analysis on the crop at farm level.

Rob Bamforth, principal analyst at Quocirca, told Internet of Business that it was great to see “practical and pragmatic applications” for IoT, and believes that deployments don’t have to be costly.

“IoT does not have to mean big bucks as long as the idea is well thought out and has direct impact. Often good IoT ideas are really about feedback and closing the loop in open-ended processes.”

Next year, he expects deployments to grow, but only in certain sectors.

“I think we will see a mixture, but I don’t think home automation will be as big as much of the hype as it’s difficult to see the value in many cases.

“I think we’ll see more enterprise deployments and a spread of sensors, but limited a little bit not by the costs of the sensors, but the cost of deploying them.” He expects to see more going on with wearables and in-vehicle telematics, as deployment can be done from the outset.

“Retro fitting [IoT] will work but only in apps where there is clear value to process improvement and resource savings.”

This is by no means the first case study of IoT being used in the farm, and much talk recently has been – as amusing as it sounds – on how to connect sheep and cows to the Internet for continuous health monitoring. Beecham Research published a research paper on the topic earlier this year.

Meanwhile, in a recent blog post for the government’s IoTUK hub, Kisanhub co-founder Giles Barker detailed how his start-up recently partnered with Nwave to run a pilot IoT project at NIAB’s innovation farm in Cambridge. Here, their potato crop uses third-party moisture sensors, and send moisture readings via Nwave network.

“IoT is a bit of a buzzword, but we are trying not to get bogged down in the hype and instead focus on creating use cases for farmers,” said Barker in his post. “I am hugely opportunistic about what remote sensing will do for agriculture, in terms of reducing water consumption and improving yield. Sensors and IoT will be impactful, not just for farming and agriculture, but also for all of society. 70 percent of all water used in the world is used by agriculture and of that 50 percent is wasted; think of the global impact if you could improve that.”