Agriculture employs 25.6% of the workforce and accounts for 44% of land use, yet contributes to a mere 7% of Sri Lanka’s GDP. Poor smallholder farmers lack the stability or capital to risk investing sufficiently and continuously in technology or inputs to even approach potential yields for their crops. Concerns are rising about an impending food crisis due to the rapid ageing of local farmers and harvest losses arising from adverse climatic phenomena. An appropriate solution to these challenges would be an affordable climate-smart, automated, protected agriculture that liberates smallholder farmers from the tyranny of the weather and seasonality. Dialog has been developing such a system with university and industry partners with a focus on low cost and ease of use. Preliminary research shows potential increases in yields of between 150% – 300% through environment-controlled agriculture systems.

The result is Saru, an ‘Internet of Things’-based technology that enables farmers to remotely control and monitor activities through their smartphones, giving them the confidence and freedom to invest in higher-value crops with a less risky ROI proposition. Dialog, in collaboration with the University of Ruhuna, is building the crop- specific knowledge bases required to optimize care for each crop, and conducting field tests to ensure practicality and applicability. Low-cost sensors and actuators that are key components of the initiative, are developed in partnership with the Dialog Mobile Communications Research Lab at the University of Moratuwa.

The agricultural know-how for regular operations will be available at users’ fingertips – whether real time updates or interventions to respond to short-term phenomena such as fertilizer application, water management, assessing growth, pest- and disease identification. Real-time over-the-air updates or interventions to respond to short-term phenomena will potentially lead to significant positive food-security implications across the country, and will be critical in an era of increasing climate volatility and uncertainty.