Green Innovation Centres – Intelligent Irrigation Systems for higher Yields and Protection of the Environment in Tunisia

Tunisia suffers from an ever increasing shortage of water. For the farmers in the highlands this means that especially their harvests are in jeopardy. This is especially the case for summer crops that require irrigation like potatoes, chilies and tomatoes. In cooperation with local partners, the Green Innovation Center introduced an additional potato harvest in the region in 2016. This extra harvest turned out to be very profitable for the smallholders. However, because of a lack of expertise the farmers tend to overwater their fields, and this leads to a shortage of the vital resource.

Therefore, in 2019 the Green Innovation Center together with the agricultural research institute INAT started a first pilot project working on intelligent irrigation. Data on soil, climate and plants is being collected and then transmitted to a cloud. A software application allows to calculate the exact need for water and the best time for watering the plants. Farmers are able to access the data through the app and receive suggestions on how to irrigate. This way, the scarce water can be utilized in a targeted and economical manner while optimizing the development and growth of the crops. Additionally, the irrigation can be completely automated so that the farmers can manage the watering of their fields from a distance.

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“In the beginning, I was not sold on the new technology”, the farmer Houssem from Sra Ouertane tells us about his experiences as a participant in the pilot project. “I have been a farmer for many years, how are a couple of rods in the ground and an app supposed to help me? But the results surprised me a lot! I saved on water and at the same time I was able to produce potatoes of higher quality. It was equally as easy to apply to the system to my chili farming. I have told my neighbors about it and they now want to participate in the project as well!” Even after the first season, the project participants achieved water savings of up to 46% while at the same time increasing the yield by 15%. The farms' water efficiency increased to 40% and operating supplies like pesticide and fertilizer had to be employed way less frequently. Consequently, the producers managed to preserve their land and the region's resources. At the same time they successfully increased their individual net income.

The Center in Tunisia is one of the Green Innovation Centers that the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development created as part of the special initiative “One World, No Hunger” (SEWOH) in 16 partnering countries. The aim of the program is to improve the supply of food, to increase the income of smallholder farms and the creation of jobs with a focus on the food processing industry by fostering innovation in agriculture and food sector. The development of a free app that assists farmers in creating irrigation plans and provides recommendations on how to best water their plants seven days in advance is planned following the successful pilot phase over the course 2020. Furthermore, the intelligent irrigation systems are going to be deployed on additional pilot parcels in different regions. Longterm, the system is going to be usable in many different countries and climate zones and therefore it can help to preserve precious water resources all across the world.

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Sector: Agriculture
Region: Tunisia
Technology: Smart irrigation management tool for water conservation and lucrative production
Project status: Pilot phase, scaling planned