2019 Winner

Real-time East Africa live groundwater use database

East Africa

The Inspire Challenge is an initiative to challenge partners, universities, and others to use CGIAR data to create innovative pilot projects that will scale. We look for novel approaches that democratize data-driven insights to inform local, national, regional, and global policies and applications in agriculture and food security in real time; helping people–especially smallholder farmers and producers–to lead happier and healthier lives.

This proposal was selected as a 2019 winner, with the team receiving 100,000 USD to put their ideas into practice. 

Low-cost solar pumps offer the potential for East Africa’s farmers to increase productivity, but data needed to judge the sustainability of these solutions and plan appropriate policies are not available. This project proposes to reduce information gaps by turning the network of solar pumps developed by Futurepump into IoT devices linked to an open, online water information platform at IWMI. The system would then be able to provide real-time information on water withdrawal, area irrigated, and energy use.

While more than 90 percent of Africa’s agriculture is rain-fed, farmers face some of the world’s highest precipitation variability, which climate change is further exacerbating. In order to increase and intensify crop production to feed Africa’s growing populations, the high water resource variability needs to be managed. Water storage and increased irrigation will be needed, but current surface water storage capacities are small in many sub-Saharan African countries compared to other regions of the world.

Water naturally stored in shallow aquifers is one solution for farmers; IWMI studies have indicated that in many regions there is still much untapped and sustainable groundwater potential, particularly if recharge is managed.

Sustainably managing water resources, whether on the surface or below, and producing irrigation management policies and guidelines, will require detailed information on water demands, withdrawals, availability, flows, and risks. At present, none of this data is available to the extent needed by farmers, water planners, and managers throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa.

This project proposes to narrow the groundwater resource information gap by turning a network of solar pumps developed by Futurepump Ltd. into IoT devices providing shallow groundwater pumping information to a Real-time East Africa live groundwater use database (REAL-GUD). It offers a public-private partnership approach to using IoT to provide accessible, consistent shallow groundwater availability and use data across multiple sub-Saharan African countries.

It will link the groundwater database with solar pumping suitability mapping and hydrologic information developed by ongoing projects to provide previously unavailable data to researchers, farmers, and planning and management agencies alike. This will enable, for example, climate proofing of the agricultural value chain as solar suppliers develop new supply chains embedded in an environmental sustainability context given that now solar abstraction can be monitored.



Step by step

October 2019

Project awarded US$100K Inspire Challenge grant

The project was one of four winners of the Inspire Challenge 2019 and was awarded US$100K at the Convention of the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture, during 16-18 October, 2019.


December 2019

Assessment of case studies & selection of study region

The IWMI team completed an assessment of case studies in order to select the region of study. 

Kisumu County in western Kenya was chosen for its proximity to Lake Victoria, as the Futurepump solar irrigation pumps have a suction limit of seven meters, requiring a region with a high water table.

Diagram showing the suction, discharge and total lift of the SF2 solar pump. Credit: Futurepump Ltd.

January - February 2020

API development

The team began API development to enable the IWMI and Futurepump databases to interface with one another.

March 2020

COVID-19 impacts

Field data collection of water withdrawals or groundwater depths in Kisumu County, Kenya were delayed because of the movement restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, the team’s private sector partner, Futurepump, based in the United Kingdom, was required to close for several months due to COVID-19 containment measures.

Overlapping of irrigation info and other data

Satellite remote sensing data of irrigated land areas were paired with ground-truthing survey data and then trained with machine learning to make it easier to extrapolate.

November 2020 - March 2021

Field work resumed

Field work was resumed to collect and monitor water withdrawal and groundwater depth data for the development, calibration, and verification of equations that translate sensor data into useful data for water management.

This data must be collected in the field because, although solar pump IoT sensors report voltage, current, and revolutions per minute, they do not report on water withdrawals or groundwater depths directly.

Survey data is also being collected on the usage of pumped water and the benefits of those uses.

Photo: Futurepump.

January - June 2021

Refining estimates for groundwater levels and abstraction volumes

The team will use field validation data to refine the codes that estimate groundwater levels and abstraction volumes.

January - June 2021

Addition of new visualization techniques

New visualization techniques will be added to the water information platform in order to highlight pump clustering and provide real-time information on water withdrawal, area irrigated, and energy use.


Stay tuned for more updates!

Project News and Resources

Challenge winner moves forward with IoT to develop world first database

Challenge winner moves forward with IoT to develop world first database

A network of solar irrigation pumps equipped with sensors that connect to the Internet will potentially provide a world first ...
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Smart solar pumps use big data to stop Africa being sucked dry

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