Cell Phone Technology Helps Maximize Irrigation Effectiveness in South Africa

By | June 8, 2023

Cell phone technology helps maximize irrigation effectiveness in South Africa. Small-scale sugar cane farmers in South Africa have managed to potentially reduce their direct irrigation costs by US$300 per hectare, thanks to the use of a high cellphone technology system –that is providing them with practical, up to date information about when to irrigate their crops.
A pilot project was implemented by the South African Sugar Association on two small scale irrigation schemes at Pongola in Mpumalanga province and Makhathini in KwaZulu Natal, meant at boasting production as well as saving water a precious commodity in these dry regions.

Cell Phone Technology Helps Maximize Irrigation Effectiveness in South Africa

In Pongola 47 farmers with a total 508 hectares were put under the pilot programme.
The system, called “My Canesim”, employs automatic weather stations, the internet and cellular technology that uses a newly formulated concept, and dynamic depletion level, to manage irrigation on large fields.
According to Dr Abraham Singles, an agronomist with the South African Sugar Research Institute who developed the system, the benefits they have identified from the farmers who are under the pilot projects are a saving in irrigation water of up to 33%. It has also improved the reduction in deep drainage of water from the root zone by 64%. This has seen an increase in the efficiency of irrigation water use of 48% and a potential reduction in direct irrigation costs of US$300 per hectare.

Dr Singles said My Canesim estimates the recent, current and future water balance, crop status and yield from field information and real time weather date and then automatically generates and distributes simple irrigation advice by SMS to farmers’ cellular phones.

Farmers testify

Themba Mthembu who was the first farmer to receive the advice from the system said My Canesim is a welcome development that is empowering smallholder farmers. Mthembu, who farms a 15 hectare plot, said they receive text messages every Wednesday telling them whether they should irrigate that week based on accurate weather information from the area.

You should also read: MTN mobile money Fraud: Top 5 tricks to be aware And Stay Safe

SMSs are sent to us whenever an action is required. The content comprises a suggestion to start, stop or continue irrigation for our fields with an estimate of the current and final cane yield. We receive these SMSs in our mother language making it is easy for us to implement. We also receive faxes on our cellphones as weekly summary advises containing information such as current and future can yield, sucrose content and soil water deficit which can be downloaded from the website from your phone,” he said.

Another farmer, Thandi Simelani, said the project was implemented in 2004, using semi-permanent and portable overhead (sprinkler) irrigation, with an average irrigation interval of between seven and 10 days. A participatory approach was adopted to ensure relevance and practicality.
Farmers, extension staff and mill cane supply management contributed to the design of the web interface as well as the advice and the reports generated by the system. Simelani said she did not know that over irrigating her sugar cane could lead to reduced yield before the system was introduced.


South Africa’s sugar cane growing areas account for 412 000 hectares, on which the majority of farmers are small scale farmers without access to the latest equipment and the best technology.
The farmers also receive text messages on the latest crop prices, market reports, which in turn empower them to negotiate the best price for their produce.

You should also read about How mobile money is bringing microinsurance to the poor.

The system also serves as a useful benchmark tool for the farmers’ field crop status and is used by extension and technical staff as a basis for discussion with growers during field visits and also to identify agronomic practices that limit yields such as poor crop stand, insufficient weed control, erratic movement of sprinklers and excessive sprinklers setting times
But Dr Singles said one concern about the systems is its reliance on the feed back from farmers. Cell phone technology helps maximise irrigation effectiveness in South Africa.

Kindly help spread this post across the various social media platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, WhatsApp and more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *