Poseidon Project teaches effective crop irrigation using IBM Cloud

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According to Planet Herald, one of the top five environmental challenges of our time is lack of clean, fresh water. UNICEF has shared some startling worldwide facts:

  • 1,400 children die every day from disease linked to poor water
  • 768 million people use unsafe drinking water
  • 2.5 billion people lack sanitation facilities

Many people take clean water for granted, but for others, it’s a luxury. Water should be a basic human right, not a commodity.

Farming wastes water

Excessive water use for agriculture is leaving rivers, lakes and underground water sources dry in many irrigated areas, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The agricultural sector uses 70 percent of the world’s accessible fresh water, which is three times more than industry and more than eight times more than municipalities use.

If only farmers could learn how to water their crops more efficiently.

Now they can. The Dutch Courage Foundation teamed with the IBM Benelux Center for Advanced Studies to create the Poseidon Project, an initiative to reduce agricultural water usage worldwide.

The Poseidon Project aims to raise awareness about the overuse of water in global agriculture and develop low-cost technology for farmers in developing countries to support them in consuming water in smart, efficient and effective ways.

The Poseidon Project uses soil moisture sensors to help farmers know when to irrigate their crops.

The internet of plants

The Poseidon Project works with school children in an eight-week curriculum to educate them about the inefficient use of water in global agriculture. It then develops affordable technologies for farmers in developing countries to reduce water usage. The foundation sends kits to participating schools where children plant mustard seeds in a miniature farm, connect a wireless sensor through Bluetooth to the IBM Cloud and measure plant health with an infrared camera.

Each plant uses a Raspberry Pi computer to monitor soil moisture, temperature and air pressure. Then, using the MQTT protocol, data is uploaded to the cloud. The Watson Internet of Things (IoT) Foundation is the message broker between the plants and the IBM Cloud platform, which stores the data in an IBM Cloudant database. The plants send notifications to users’ mobile phones as well as Twitter. Messages include:

  • “I’m thirsty! #poseidon.”
  • “Please give me water now. It’s not going to rain tomorrow! #poseidon”
  • “I’m happy today! #poseidon”

They also connect with the Weather Channel API to know whether it is going to rain or not, so students know how much water to give their plants.

There is an element of gamification with Twitter for the students: which plant has the most prominent voice? (Which can get the most followers, likes or retweets?) This helps to raise awareness about the Poseidon Project and the global water shortage.

The data that is generated about the mustard plants is analyzed and applied to agriculture.

Amsterdam IBM Poseidon Project

IBMers join the Poseidon Project: plants at the IBM Amsterdam office

Reducing worldwide water consumption

Irrigation is essential to grow the crops needed for food and clothing, but rain can’t replenish the river basins of the world fast enough. For example, the Aral Sea was at one time among the largest lakes in the world, but it has been drying up during the last 50 years since the rivers that fed it were diverted for irrigation. Because of the increasing demand for agricultural products, most of the river basins on the planet are heading in the same direction. This causes extreme climate change. Southern Siberia, where the Aral Sea is located, went from a relatively modest climate to extremely cold (as low as negative 50 degrees Celsius) in the winter.

It’s said that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. How apt that the Poseidon Project has chosen tiny mustard seeds to be the seeds of hope. Today’s students will inherit our planet.

The Poseidon Project has begun testing the technology in fields in the Netherlands and Russia. It will roll out the equipment free of charge to farmers in Africa and Central Asia. It is ultimately expected to reduce worldwide water consumption by 30 percent.

To get involved with Poseidon project, contact and follow @PoseidonBM.

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