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Using IoT Low-Cost Sensors for Smallholder Farms Research Paper

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Updated: Feb 21st, 2022


This paper seeks to discuss low-cost sensors, which fuses the IoT methodology in smallholder agriculture farms. It is projected that the global population will increase to 9 billion by 2050, and food creation should increment from its present level. The crucial part of this development should come from small farmers who rely on hereditary knowledge in their agricultural practices and live in places where climate patterns and cycles are less understandable due to environmental change. Furthermore, during 1930, it was easy for one farmer to grow food for four people in the United States of America. However, today, with advanced technology, one farmer can supply 155 individuals. Smallholder ranches represent a considerable portion of agricultural creation in LMICs. The hereditary assorted variety of food is maintained by moderating the dangers of nourishing inefficiencies and environmental corruption. Smallholder farmers are the most vital part of the country, especially in the States like California, Texas, and Illinois, which have many holder farmers who generate immense revenue. Therefore, supporting such farmers is vital in helping the United States of America preserve the existing agricultural culture.

Executive Summary

This paper aimed to look into the IoT technology by first defining what IoT is, secondly, discussing how it can be implemented by listing down eight steps that should be followed. Thirdly, it looks at how the technology works in agriculture, specifically for the smallholder farms, by talking about some of the components that characterize IoT in agriculture. Finally, the research concludes by discussing some of the advantages and disadvantages of IoT technology and summarizes by calling for further research for improvement.

What IoT Is

The concept of IoT refers to situations whereby network connectivity and computing capabilities apply to devices, detectors, and objects never generally considered computers, enabling them to create, share and utilize data with little human interference. Typically, IoT is about information and communication, connectivity, and action and interaction. This paper seeks to define the meaning of IoT, how it can be implemented, how it works in agriculture for smallholder farms, and finally explore its advantages and disadvantages.

Connectivity in IoT entails all the things that are connected through the internet. Things in the case of IoT refer to any physical object such as a sensor that may be uniquely identified by a Unique Resource Identifier (URL) (Elijah et al., 2018). In terms of IoT communication and information, all connected things, whether through a network of servers or a combination of three channels, share their information to particular designated servers or endpoints (Chang et al., 2019).

Interaction and action is the last feature that characterizes IoT by helping to define its core, which entails information sharing and connection (El-Hajj et al., 2017). It is important to note that not all data from the related items is just produced to be stored and forgotten, instead, it has to be utilized in something useful.

However, the global internet’s resilience and security are riddled with poorly secured online connected devices, thereby putting the lives of many users at risk. The mass-scale rollout of different homogeneous IoT brands on the market also magnifies the security issues of digitally connected devices, particularly those that can automatically connect to others without consumers’ consent. It is, therefore, essential for the users and IoT systems and devices developers to collectively ensure that the internet and the users of such components are not exposed (Delaney & O’Hare, 2016). A collective approach is also required for safety, especially in developing appropriate and practical solutions that address the IoT challenges.

How IoT Can Be Implemented

When compared to the industrial revolution, there is no doubt that IoT digital technology is more significant. It is touted as the most palpable consequence of the fourth industrial revolution in its early stages (Delaney & O’Hare, 2016). Like in other past revolutions, those professionals and businesses that will adopt the IoT in their operations are more likely to have a strong competitive edge in the coming decades. Therefore, professionals and companies must know how to implement new technology and understand why they are implementing it (Antony et al., 2020). Knowing the rationale for adopting the technology would ensure the deployment enhances company operations in a manner that reimburses expenditure and offers the prospect of greater cost-effectiveness.

Some of the steps that should be followed in the successful Implementation include a clear set of objectives, which entails reaching out to experts, specialists, and engineers. It is especially critical if one does not know to define the problem being solved, what is to be achieved, and the best way to reach the objectives. The second step is to peruse through some of the successfully tested IoT cases (Yoon et al., 2018). After determining the specific goals that need to be achieved, any individual or organization must then identify where the identified problems fall within some of the areas where the IoT has been successfully implemented (Delaney & O’Hare, 2016). For example, in smallholder farms, one may wish to use IoT in environmental monitoring by gathering data about temperature, humidity, water quality, soil humidity, and pollution.

The decision on the correct hardware to use is the third step that must be considered during the IoT implementation. After deciding to adopt IoT, one must establish the kind of hardware in terms of the asset or device that should be integrated into the network (Chang et al., 2019). In the most basic form, the hardware may consist of sensors that provide data about vision, weight, pressure, temperature, color, sound, volume, among other things that must be sent somewhere, possibly a central server over the internet (Paul Antony et al., 2020). Other items that may be considered are actuators and edge computers, depending on what needs to be achieved.

The selection of IoT tools-there is no doubt about the internet being the foundation of IoT. However, what makes IoT useful are the different devices connected through it, and continuously work together to achieve specific objectives (Delaney & O’Hare, 2016). In this fourth step, any person or organization intending to use the technology is advised to ensure that all the identified devices that want to be used can be connected to a network. Furthermore, such components must have the ability to gather sensor data, process it, and send it through the internet to where it is required (El-Hajj et al., 2017). They must also receive commands through the internet to control actuators and undertake any task(s).

The fifth implementation step involves the selection of the IoT platform. Users intending to use the technology must find an effective software platform that will be critical in centralizing and controlling all the aspects of the IoT-connected devices and their network (Antony et al., 2020). The software platform may either be obtained from a specialized vendor or be custom-made in-house. Notwithstanding where the platform will be found, the important thing is to design the IoT around it by creating a prototype of what is needed (Paul Antony et al., 2020). Prototyping and Implementation is the sixth step that must be considered when establishing the IoT system. It is essential to involve a team of experts from various departments to decide on the best way forward because IoT entails many different methods that interact every day. As such, other professionals will have to be involved throughout the project’s incrementation, inception, Implementation, design, and prototyping (Antony et al., 2020). Some of the experts that may be needed include telecommunication specialists, computer engineers, automation engineers, software engineers, IT experts, electronic engineers, manufacturing experts, and mechatronic engineers.

Other experts involved at a later stage encompass computer scientists, information systems experts, security officers, data scientists, and statisticians. The seventh step of IoT implementation entails gathering useful data, especially if the project’s purpose appears to be more complicated, requiring a need to keep track of everything (Delaney & O’Hare, 2016). The cost of implementing the IoT system will require resources depending on the amount of storage space needed to achieve specific set goals.

Application of the cold and hot path analytics is the eighth step, mainly focused on the decision-making process that emphasizes the long-term goals of the system being implemented. The stage thus entails the storage of part or all the data collected by the sensors and their afterward interpretation or conversion (Elijah et al., 2018). The interpreted data enables an organization and, in this case, the smallholder farmers to the status of resources, assets, systems, and production over time, including the present collection of data. From the analyzed data, it is easy to know what needs to be changed or added to ensure efficiency. The last step involves implementing machine learning, better known as Artificial Intelligence (a complex group of algorithms) that is crucial in reviewing gathered data in real-time and identifying their patterns (Antony et al., 2020). AI may supplement or take a data scientist’s place in analyzing data to help predict the need for maintenance, among others, through pattern recognition.

Working of IoT in Agriculture for Smallholder Farms

The rise of precision agriculture among the smallholder farmers has been primarily facilitated by the penetration of the Internet-of-Things in many developing countries like India and Kenya. Despite the success of IoT in smallholder farms, there has been limited research on the challenges and outcomes of using the technology (Gómez-Chabla et al., 2019). A basic IoT agricultural system encompasses project support and structure, measurement device, Implementation and feedback, data transmission and data storage, and analytics. The layers of the devices usually have a sensor that helps measure the parameter of interest, for example, the moisture of the soil and the necessary electronics to support its functions (Yoon et al., 2018). All equipment involved is generally organized in topology and joined to a gateway via a communication channel in the data transport layer.

The existence of comprehensive coverage of wireless networks facilitates consistent and, in several cases, almost real-time dissemination of data. The server often receives aggregated or individual measurements to analyze, query, and clean (Cornejo-Velazquez et al., 2020). After the process is completed, relevant insights are then fed back to other IoT devices or end-users to inform decisions or trigger actions. Each IoT operation is increasingly made more straightforward by providing a wide variety of existing services and products precisely dedicated to specific applications, hence lowering deployment costs (Malavade & Akulwar, 2016). One of the most critical enablers for IoT services in LMICs is the presence of reliable cellular infrastructure. Recent data released by the World Bank about India, a standard benchmark for digital services for developing countries, smartphone penetration, and cellular connection is significant (Zheleva et al., 2017). The Internet of Things works in the smallholder farms by helping farmers track farming tractors and monitor livestock, for instance, when they have roamed from the herd to be rounded up. Nowadays, farmers use mobile IoT solutions to gather data on their herd’s location, health, or well-being, thus saving money in two ways (Cornejo-Velazquez et al., 2020). Firstly, the information helps in the identification and isolation of sick animals to prevent the disease from the spread. Secondly, it lowers labor costs, especially in identifying the location of the cattle. There are, however, certain instances where it may be challenging to instrument livestock with sensors, specifically outfitting the cattle with a collar (Dimitrieska et al., 2018). The alternative option in such a situation is using a wireless retrofitted bolus inserted in the cow’s stomach and communicating through Bluetooth to the ear tag.

The selection of wireless technology with enough battery power that can last the lifespan of cattle is another challenge that smallholder farmers may face when implementing the IoT solution. For instance, a beef cow usually lives for about fifteen months or longer. However, some technologies, such as the mesh network, may find it challenging to survive up to that time because of battery life (Paul Antony et al., 2020). In such a situation, farmers can opt to use the Symphony link, which can easily connect for that kind of period without much infrastructure around the ranch to communicate with all other devices. Through IoT soil sensors, smallholder farmers can be alerted about adverse conditions such as extreme acidity, allowing them time to figure out the problem and deliver better crops (Elijah et al., 2018). Besides sensing soil conditions, this technology also enables smallholder farmers to monitor water use for optimum crop growth, report weather conditions, and evaluate customized fertilizer compositions depending on soil chemistry.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Some of the advantages of using IoT include communication where devices can stay connected all the time hence reducing inefficiencies and encouraging more excellent quality; automation and control as a result of connected devices being centrally and digitally managed using wireless networks contributing to the rapid and prompt outcome; information whereby more data can be collected, which then allows smallholder farmers to make better decisions on quality production.; monitoring, which is considered one of the most apparent advantages of IoT (Dimitrieska et al., 2018). Knowing the exact quantity and type of supplies needed in the farm can help a farmer to save on costs that could have otherwise been wasted; Money-one of the critical benefits of IoT is saving capital since connected devices will help to simplify the data for farmers in a way that they understand instead of seeking the services of a consultant (Dimitrieska et al., 2018). The last advantage is the automation of daily tasks hence avoiding human intervention and also increasing transparency in the processes.

On the flip side, the disadvantages of the technology include compatibility-there is still no international standard of compatibility when it comes to the monitoring and tagging equipment. It is a disadvantage that can be easily solved by the companies that manufacture the equipment; complexity- the connection and communication of many devices at ago is likely to present more opportunities of failure because of the complexity involved; security and privacy-the risk of losing privacy increases as more connected devices continue to transmit data (Dimitrieska et al., 2018). For example, many people often question how well their data is encrypted during transmission to other devices; complexity-because of its complex and diverse network, IoT may fail because of a bug in the hardware or software, resulting in severe consequences since the problem may affect all the connected devices (Chang et al., 2019). Finally, this technology’s advent may render people jobless, mostly when many automated tasks, leading to increased unemployment rates.


In conclusion, this paper has thoroughly looked at the meaning of IoT, how it can be implemented, how it works in agriculture for smallholder farms, and finally explored its advantages and disadvantages. From the paper, there is an information gap about IoT that needs to be addressed through further research. For instance, there is less information about how the devices used in this technology can be standardized. Despite some of the system’s challenges, there is no doubt that IoT is the best option for smallholder farmers. Mass adoption of technology in agriculture will go a long way in ensuring food security for the increasing human population.


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