IoT weather station for improved food and water security

03 January 2020

Weather touches pretty much all aspects of farming life, affecting multiple disciplines such as agriculture, hydrological forecasting and emergency alert systems.

That means the ability to forecast weather is critical to agriculture and to ensuring a viable, adequate water supply.

Even prior to climate change, millions of farmers worldwide were facing the effects of uncertain weather conditions, with insufficient and irregular rainfall, floods, droughts, and soil degradation all contributing to reduced yields. 

Like the rest of the world, Africa is facing the ongoing, monumental upheaval of climate change.

In sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture accounts for more than 30% of GDP while employing more than 60% of its working population.

The effects of changing environments will need to be addressed if the continent is to up its food production to meet its own needs.

Central to that goal is the expanded acquisition of weather data to help farmers plant the best crops at the correct time so as to optimise production. 

Reliable, cost-effective weather stations, strategically placed, can help farmers decide when and what to plant; when to apply fertilizers or pesticides; when to harvest; and how to manage livestock.

Basically, farmers can plan food production growth with advanced knowledge of weather conditions.

For example, automated weather forecasts make it possible to manage crops in real time, providing early warnings, helping farmers adjust irrigation, improving soil management, and providing the optimal time to harvest.

This expanded understanding of regional environmental conditions helps create a knowledge-based farming community that can improve productivity through highly focused weather insights. 


Responding to Africa’s needs

To address the growing need for up-to-date weather information, the Trans-African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory (TAHMO) initiative seeks to install and operate up to 20,000 weather stations in sub-Saharan Africa. 

The first TAHMO weather station was installed in 2012. Now in 2019, TAHMO has installed more than 500 weather stations in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

In collaboration with the Meter Group, TAHMO has developed a small, reliable, automatic weather station with no moving parts. All the sensors are in a one-piece sensor unit, which employs bi-directional communication for remote firmware updates and data transmission. The weather station itself is solar powered, and the cost for the station is quite low when compared to other varieties with similar functionalities. The station is built using current Internet of Things (IoT) developments in sensor technology and that helps makes the cost much lower. 

The TAHMO weather stations records data at a five-minute interval, which then is transmitted remotely over the GPRS network hourly (or at a higher temporal scale). This high-resolution data can be aggregated into daily, weekly, or monthly data sets according to the needs of the user. A multitude of weather attributes are available, such as temperature; rainfall, barometric and vapour pressure; relative humidity; solar radiation; wind direction and speed; lightning strikes; and a library of historical data.

Data only is useful when it actually is used. To that end, TAHMO, which is a non-profit organisation, makes its weather station monitoring data available to national meteorological agencies, government entities, or scientific research users for free. Basically, any researcher seeking to develop peer-reviewed articles for publication can obtain any and all data once they have signed a no- charge agreement clarifying end usage of said data. Fees are incurred only for non-research use of the data. The fees then are used to maintain and grow the observation network. 

The majority of weather stations are being installed at local schools (primary, secondary, and at universities), where teachers are using the data from their ‘hosted’ station in their classroom lessons. Weather stations in schools serve multiple purposes. The concept is to make science, geography, and math education a natural part of students’ lives by seeing how weather data translates into quantitative information. This process builds and conveys weather and climate knowledge to the next generation of people on the front lines of climate change in Africa. And, by having the station within school boundaries, theft becomes much less of a problem than if the stations were widely dispersed in fields. 

“The TAHMO project is ambitious—seeking to work across the African continent, making millions of measurements per day, and feeding them every hour to the entire global community,” says John Selker, co-Director, TAHMO. “Aeris provided the platform we needed to be able to reliably and easily manage communication to a complex continental-scale network of sensors. Aeris support has allowed us to react in hours to critical issues, which is fundamental to our users gaining confidence that essential data will be delivered in cases of weather emergencies, and reliably for the long term so that TAHMO data can be woven into their enterprises.”

Today, TAHMO is active in 21 countries in west, southern and east Africa. Its weather monitoring stations currently ship with Aeris SIMs installed, thereby shortening the deployment process and lowering the cost across the entire supply chain. After experiencing the level of support from Aeris, TAHMO decided to use the Aeris SIM cards globally on its network. 

TAHMO says it is committed to serving the public by advancing the free and open exchange of hydro-meteorological data collected with its monitoring stations. By allowing the free download of all its raw data for scientific research and governmental applications, TAHMO supports and adheres to World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) Resolution 40 and Resolution 25 (policies and practices for the exchange of meteorological and related data). 

For TAHMO, the partnership with Aeris is producing better coverage at a reduced cost. The heightened support service from Aeris is enhancing the wide application of the weather station solution in most parts of Africa. Improved farm productivity now has an IoT weather roadmap. What’s more, farmers throughout Africa are starting to reap the benefits. n