Connecting water & agriculture

Water is an essential part of life. Its fundamental role in every person’s life is such that the United Nations recognizes access to water as a human right. However, although water covers 70% of the planet, more than 1 billion people worldwide don’t have proper access to a water supply. In addition, over 2 billion people experience water scarcity for one month every year. Lack of access to this vital natural resource can lead to many consequences, such as deaths related to drought. In fact, according to the February 2022 IPCC report, 34% of disaster-related deaths between 1970 and 2019 were a result of drought.

When it comes to critical water-dependent activities such as watering crops, water scarcity and quality are major issues – especially for farmers in developing areas. Many farmers would benefit from guidance on what quantities of water to use for their crops on any given day to ensure a good yield, or better understand what sources of water are safe for irrigation. Addressing this issue can enhance the livelihoods of farmers and, consequently, their surrounding community.

To address water scarcity and quality using technology, Texas A&M AgriLife and Deltares are joining the first cohort of the IBM Sustainability Accelerator.

Optimizing water usage

Currently, many smallholder farmers struggle to manage their farms because they lack access to real-time, daily guidance for when or how much water to use for specific crops to ensure a good yield. To address this issue, Texas A&M AgriLife and IBM will deploy and scale a solution to provide “when to water” decision support to farmers in arid regions of the United States.

The solution, called Liquid Prep, is an end-to-end, open-source platform that includes an IoT sensor and a mobile application running on the IBM Cloud that harness critical weather data from IBM’s Environmental Intelligence Suite. Beginning with agricultural communities in Texas, farmers will receive insights for water usage, which can increase crop yield increases while decreasing economic and environmental costs. The initial deployment will occur at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Temple with a target reach of 250 small holder farmers, impacting a community of about 1,000 people whose livelihoods are threatened due to water-related climate and other environmental challenges.

Enhancing water quality by measuring nitrates

Most of the farmers use fertilizers to grow crops on their land. This and manure from livestock may cause nitrate losses to surface water, which can be harmful to the ecosystem and our drinking water. Recovering an ecosystem that has been affected by high levels of nitrate is very hard and expensive. Also, high concentrations of nitrate in drinking water can result in serious health problems, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The Deltares partnership with IBM will enhance and expand the reach of its Nitrate App, a tech solution that ultimately helps protect communities by identifying hot spots of nitrate losses to surface water that causes toxic algae blooms and oxygen depleted dead zones in downstream lakes and coastal waters. This app is used by farmers and other professionals concerned with water quality to measure nitrate levels and share the results.

The app is free for users and can also help farmers save on fertilizer costs or to check the drinking water from their domestic groundwater wells. This solution provides an easy and accessible platform to engage with other farmers and to share water quality knowledge with communities.

Deltares will leverage IBM’s expertise in user experience design for the Nitrate App and its support to accelerate the uptake of the Nitrate app in France, particularly in the Brittany region which has high-profile cases of nitrate pollution in local water bodies.

As the sustainable agriculture projects of the IBM Sustainability Accelerator continue to progress, we can’t wait to share with you the ways we will deepen our partnerships with Deltares, Texas A&M, The Nature Conservancy India, Heifer International, and Plan21 Foundation. Together, we will advance agriculture more sustainably to benefit the world’s most vulnerable populations to environmental hazards.

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