Lack of infrastructure, such as internet access or electricity, is a problem across rural Africa and presents a challenge for digital transformation. However, many Internet of Things (IoT) applications, such as for irrigation, fish farming or cattle monitoring, do not need real-time data. If well-engineered, sensing and actuation can be implemented without internet connectivity, using a concept called ‘edge computing’, which brings data storage closer to where it is needed.
The EU-African Research and Innovation action project, WAZIUP, successfully implemented an open source platform for IoT and big data in Sub-Saharan Africa, to improve rural working conditions. Working with both farmers and breeders (the end users), alongside technological entrepreneurs and investors, the project developed a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) approach to problem-solving, combining a catalogue of hardware and software options with tutorials.
Accessible and affordable IoT technologies
WAZIUP provided open IoT solutions to communities, using open source software and IoT hardware, meaning that the team did not have to expend resources developing the technology itself, but rather its application.
“Our main focus was local adaptation of the technology, using local resources and skills to redesign where necessary, creating a cost-effective and sustainable alternative,” says project coordinator Mr Abdur Rahim.
Photo: WAZIUP IoT solution. © WAZIUP
The team shared the integration software with its ready-to-use code templates, and step-by-step assembly tutorials about how to use the IoT solutions with locally available hardware, through the development platform Github. To date these online tools have reached 100 000 people, within and outside Africa.
WAZIUP’s core solutions include an: IoT long-range sensor platform based on arduino open source hardware (WaziDev), IoT long-range gateway platform based on Raspberry-PI (WaziGate), IoT secure and modular cloud platform with open dashboard integrating software and hardware components for IoT application development (WaziCloud) and a farming application for advanced data analysis and visualisation (WaziFarm).
WAZIUP developed and piloted four Minimal Viable Products (MVP) across 11 sites in Senegal, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Togo. These were: a soil moisture sensor to help with irrigation, a weather station, a GPS-based cattle collar to prevent cattle stealing, and a buoy to monitor water quality in fish farming ponds. Creating a Pan-African IoT ecosystem As well as contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), WAZIUP’s low cost solutions create job opportunities and develop skills, especially for young people. WAZIUP is now registered in Germany as a non-profit research, innovation and capacity building organisation, guided by a vision to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.
“We believe WAZIUP is the IoT’s flagship project in Africa. We have trained more than 200 developers in Africa and believe that our concept of introducing an ecosystem makes it sustainable”, says Mr Rahim.
To help towards creating this Pan-African IoT ‘ecosystem’, the team are looking at two business models: offering end-to-end IoT solutions for entrepreneurs and tech-hubs to start prototyping IoT applications and franchising the agriculture solutions. Indeed, the team are already in discussions with local SMEs about making the solutions market available.
The EU is currently financing a continuation project called WAZIHUB, designed to foster the creation of startups, build capacity and engage local innovation hubs across 20 countries in Africa. The hubs will operate locally but will be connected to the African-wide WAZIHUB ecosystem.