Agriculture may form the backbone of the economy of Pakistan, but outdated practices have prevented the sector from exploiting its full potential for a long time. A gradual but ever-worsening downward trend in production has been the net result of these old habits, especially towards irrigation and resource management. While not by any means the primary cause, it had a role to play in the current food crisis that some experts fear could in the future become a recurring problem.
At least before a young entrepreneur came to the fore with a creative approach, that had been the case. A potential solution for Ramla Kareem and the team was to use the new information technology resources for agriculture. That is how Aqua Agro, a cloud platform built on the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) that can help save water and improve agricultural production, came into being.
“Agriculture used to contribute to the country’s GDP by around 50 per cent. It now accounts for less than 20%,’ said Kareem, who now serves as CEO of Aqua Agro. Meanwhile, our freshwater resources are drying up quickly. With limited storage facilities, there is a dire need to save as much freshwater as possible,” she said.
Stressing the need for technical solutions, a graduate in electronic engineering from NED University pointed out that the agricultural sector is currently wasting half of the water it uses, while using up to 70% of the freshwater resources of the world. “We can increase both crop yield and profit margins for farmers if we can ensure optimum water use.” the Entrepreneur said.
As the concept became a stuck thought in their heads, as part of their university project, Kareem and her team members agreed to find answers, an effort that eventually developed into Aqua Agro as the initiative progressed into its commercial phase.
According to Kareem, her device leverages IoT and AI-based cloud technologies to acquire sensor readings of factors like temperature, humidity, soil moisture, and water requirement. Which it then uses to provide farmers a decision-based support system, advising them on the best approach to irrigation.
The journey has been far from simple for the young entrepreneurs behind Aqua Agro, with Covid-19 exacerbating all the difficulties faced in the growth of the platform. The different coronavirus lockdowns were a major obstacle in the creation of the platform, in addition to the difficulties of developing an AI algorithm. “We did some case studies, but we needed more crops and types of soil to be covered. Covid-19 and lockdowns have prevented us from deploying it as much as we would like,” Kareem said.