"Colombia has a longstanding tradition as a banana producer and exporter thanks to optimal climate and soil conditions. The ease with which this fruit can be cultivated has meant that farmers have not made much effort towards optimizing efficiency, and have instead maintained very old and inefficient habits like manually collecting hundreds of soil samples once a week to analyze the condition of their crops. Santiago Correa knew that this situation could be improved, so while he was studying mechatronics and biomedical engineering he created SIOMApp, a mobile application that offers farmers real-time data for their crops. Thanks to this project, Correa has been selected as one of MIT Technology Review, Spanish edition´s Innovators Under 35 Colombia 2016.
A network of sensors, weather stations and drones make up the system behind SIOMApp. The data gathered regarding the condition of the crops, such as the groundwater level, water conductivity and meteorological conditions, are fed into a mobile app every hour, where they are displayed in the form of analytical graphs. ""Every month, a summary of the data is generated to facilitate analysis of the irrigation and draining systems,"" Correa explains.
The drones, which are equipped with a spectral camera, gather data on plant vigor. This information can serve to detect black sigatoka, a serious fungal disease that affects banana crops in Latin America. In future, the application will incorporate an automatic production monitoring system which will allow users to track banana stock in real time and reduce fruit wastage.
The main challenge for SIOMApp will be to convince the owners of banana plantations that "" we can improve agriculture through study, technique and technology,"" Correa says. There is an enormous technological and educational divide between urban and rural areas in Colombia. ""This is one barrier, but also a motivation: to get people to operate and enjoy the benefits of technology is a big challenge,"" he states.
Since Correa launched his initiative commercially one year ago, SIOMApp has already been implemented on five large plantations in Colombia. The average size of a banana crop is 100 acres, where installation of the equipment required for SIOMApp takes between two to three weeks. The installation price varies according plantation size. The cheapest package, which includes two sensors, one for the groundwater level and another to measure the volumetric contents of the water, charges one dollar (0.90 euros) for installation and a monthly charge of 30 dollars (approximately 28 euros).
Correa highlights that SIOMApp can ""increase productivity in different regions and encourage better agricultural practices,"" something that the executive director at Neuromorphic Technologies (Peru) and jury member for the Innovators Under 35 Colombia 2016 awards, Fernando Jiménez Motte echoes. In this expert´s words, this application ""is an excellent initiative for driving smart agriculture."""