Some Indian farmers now use cell phones to activate their irrigation systems, highlighting just how vital mobile technology has become in developing countries.
The $56 Nano Ganesh service connects farmers’ mobile phones to electric pumps in their fields, allowing them to remotely “call” the irrigation system rather than manually turning on each pipe.
Santosh Ostwal of Pune developed the technology after watching his 84-year-old, crippled grandfather walk several kilometers every midnight to turn on water pumps.
As India’s electric supply is notoriously unreliable, Ostwal’s grandfather was often forced to make multiple return trips through the snake-infested fields. After witnessing this hardship as a boy during the 1970s, Ostwal began a lifelong journey to help rural Indian farmers water their fields more easily.
He first tried using an alarm clock to activate irrigation pumps and then switched to radio frequencies. But the second attempt required a large investment and Ostwal barely had money for food, so he made a desperate gamble on mobile technology.
“I can tell you within 15 minutes, I got the result using the bulky Motorola T 180 mobile,” he recalled.
Ostal’s 2009 invention is now spreading throughout the subcontinent as well as to Egypt and even Australia, where it benefits the environment by reducing overwatering and saving power. The service may also do well in Africa, where farmers already rely on cell phones for medical help and to prevent crime.
Nano Ganesh is just one example of developing countries’ growing reliance on mobile technology, which has become especially vital for rural farmers who sometimes lack the infrastructure to access vital resources for their endeavors.
MKrishi, another Indian agricultural service, lets farmers snap photos of diseased crops with cell phone cameras and text them to experts for advice on proper pest control.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently began assisting rural Indians by funding mobile inventions, like Ostal’s, which help farmers living on less than $2 per day.
In Kenya, KickStart helps farmers buy seeds and fertilizer via a text-based layaway program. Using the M-Pesa money transfer service, they can even buy costly irrigation systems in piecemeal payments without running up large debts or consigning away future crops.
As mobile farming inventions like Nano Ganesh catch on in developing countries, those previously living in poverty may finally gain the freedom to think beyond daily necessities with a solution that is literally at their fingertips.