How IoT is helping fight malnutrition in Tanzania with next-gen flour mills

Vodafone's IoT business supports agriculture company, Sanku to tackle malnutrition in Africa using IoT solution

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Vodafone is using its internet of things technology to support agriculture projects in countries throughout Africa, starting with an IoT-enabled flour mill in Tanzania designed to tackle malnutrition.

The network provider's IoT wing Vodafone IoT believes that by closely monitoring crops its technology can with help to mitigate negative effects on harvests.

According to Vodafone, the IoT technology is also built to improve employee efficiency and provide visibility into businesses' supply chain and operations.

Sanku, a non-profit organisation that provides fortified flour across southern and east Africa uses technology called a dosifier machine to enable small flour mills to produce flour with the right amount of nutrients required.

Vodafone provides Sanku with its managed IoT connectivity platform to improve the effectiveness of its technology. It is integrated to collect the data and transmit it to a cloud-based database every five minutes.

"We got in touch with them [Sanku] and helped them to add our connectivity to their solution, and that's how we started," Ludovico Fassati, head of IoT at Vodafone Americas told Computerworld UK. "We became closer to understand what they're doing and help them really enjoy what they're doing, which is a great job.

"So, we had to do some testing on the mills and make sure that we had the right coverage and speed for transmitting the data. In this particular case, we also shared a lot of knowledge we have in the agriculture business coming from other regions with all the features we have."

Sanku, which was founded in 2013, initially used one vehicle to deliver nutrients across areas in Tanzania. However, this became a challenge in terms of efficiency and cost.

Using Vodafone's IoT connectivity platform, Sanku workers are now able to connect to 100 flour mills with real-time alerts that notify employees when the mills run out of flour or require maintenance.

The IoT solution was added to make the dosifier machine smarter, enabling real-time data to appear on a fitted dashboard to make it easier to access delivery routes, meal production and staffing.

"What's happening now, all the real-time and production data, how much they're producing and how much they require to be restocked is being populated in our ERP system," Felix Brooks-Church, co-founding president & CEO at Sanku told Computerworld UK.

According to Brooks-Church, the company is now able to quickly spot problems with its infrastructure, as well as enabling Sanku to pilot the machines online. While the IoT project is only currently live in Tanzania, the organisation plans to scale to other African countries in the next few years.

"It was definitely IoT that took the lead on that," Brooks-Church added. "It allowed us to automate our business as previously everything was pretty much manual. Now I feel like we've just jumped into a new era of automation."

The Sanku team spans 25 people, with the core employees working with the vehicles to deliver flour to the mills, as well as on machine maintenance. Brooks-Church believes the addition of automation into the mixture has encouraged a more effective staffing model.

"It means we can be really smart and cost effective about where we move our staff, how we use their time and that's how we're really going to scale," he said.

"That solution allowed us to scale and double our impact today and we're going to keep doubling every year. That means more machines, more staff and more countries so it really has launched us into a new era of scale."

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