Scene to lead UK partners with smart irrigation trials in Uganda

Scene is absolutely thrilled to announce our successful application to the Department for International Development’s Innovate UK’s Agri-Tech Catalyst Round 7, with our ‘REFRUIT’ proposal!

REFRUIT (Resource Efficient Farming by Renewable Ugandan Irrigation Technology) addresses the barriers to irrigation uptake in Uganda and aims to deliver a technical solution and commercial strategy to improve productivity and livelihoods in the country.

The project combines the easy-to-use and highly localised precision irrigation of Farm-Hand with the robust and low-cost solar pumps of Futurepump for field trials in the Gulu region of Uganda co-ordinated by Gulu Agricultural Development Company (GADC).

The idea for REFRUIT emerged from a previous collaboration between Scene and other industry and academic partners, who came together to work on an Innovate UK-funded project called SCORRES. During their research, crop irrigation emerged as a critical driver of productive energy use in small-holder farms in India. Following the project, Farm-Hand Ltd. was established, with its software-hardware smart precision irrigation system called Water-Hand. Using machine learning algorithms, and hyper-local day-ahead weather forecasting, Water-Hand allows for the right volume of water to be delivered at the right time, for any given crop or location. Water-Hand was developed and then trialled in the Tamil Nadu region of India. It was hugely successful, delivering a 70% reduction in water, a 30% increase in crop yield, and a 10% decrease in labour time.

The livelihoods of over 34m people in Uganda depend on the agricultural sector, and it is becoming increasingly necessary to develop alternative methods to traditional rain-fed agricultural systems.

Building on these results, the REFRUIT project, beginning in May 2019, will integrate the Water-Hand technology with Futurepump’s award winning solar pump technology, and trial the product in the context of Uganda in east Africa. Uganda has some of the highest irrigation potential in the world, with an estimated 3m of irrigable hectares, but is currently using less than 0.5% of this. Furthermore, the urgency and impact of sufficient irrigation innovations is only set to increase over time – the livelihoods of over 34m people in the country depend on the agricultural sector and, as rainfall becomes more unpredictable and scarce, it is becoming increasingly necessary to develop alternative methods to traditional rain-fed agricultural systems.

REFRUIT hopes to address this growing irrigation need. Working closely with GADC and its network of small-holder farmers in the Gulu district of Uganda, Scene will co-host participatory stakeholder workshops and gather useful baseline data. These workshops will help inform the design of a resultant business model, as well as a user app, which small holder farmers can use to control the irrigation systems, and report on the technology’s impact. These field trials in Uganda will help support a sustainable commercial case for its future roll-out that makes use of existing farm networks, helping to deliver a disruptive, but affordable, effective and resource-efficient irrigation solution for east African small holder farmers.

The REFRUIT project is a consortium of four partners, who will each provide their specialist expertise: Scene will manage, report and co-develop the stakeholder workshops; Farm-Hand will provide and adapt their existing smart precision irrigation system; Futurepump will contribute their robust and affordable solar-powered irrigation pump solutions; while the Gulu Agricultural Development Company (GADC) will provide installation, training, monitoring and reporting of the irrigation system, as well as engaging their vast network of small holder farmers across Uganda.