Tuesday, 9 June 2015

What the Chameleon Said

This morning I went to my field of bean and maize
I was worried because it had not rained for days
I asked The Chameleon ‘Madam, what do you think?
Do my plants at this time need a drink?’
The Chameleon changed colour, she turned red
And then she looked at me and quickly said
‘Your plants today are thirsty my friend
If you don’t give water urgently that might be their end’
So I flooded my field, I let the water flow and flow
After a long time I thought to myself, ‘Bravo!
Now every part of my field is completely wet
From top to bottom, no need to fret’
But now The Chameleon, She turned blue
She said, ‘Oh my friend what did you do?!
Now you are wasting water, washing away plant food
More water will not do you any good’
So I stopped watering, quickly turned off the taps
I sat concerned, my face tucked in between my laps
But later that day The Chameleon turned green
‘Now your maize should be fine’, she said, ‘and your bean’

ACIAR would like to congratulate Dr Ikenna Mbakwe for his prize-winning poem (above) on the Chameleon soil monitor. Dr Mbakwe submitted the poem as part of the South African National Research Foundation’s Young Science Communicators Competition 2015 and won the Open Category.

The pre-commercial Chameleon reader. Source: ACIAR

The Chameleon has been developed as part of an ACIAR project titled ‘A traffic light soil water sensor for resource poor farmers: proof of concept’ (FSC/2013/002) as a tool to assist farmers in developing countries to know much water is in the soil for successful irrigation management. The purpose of the project is to build literacy around soil water among researchers, extension workers and farmers, through a simple sensor with a visual colour display. The ability to know how much water is in the soil is vital for irrigation management, to avoid plant stress on the one hand, and over-irrigation, loss of nutrients and waterlogging on the other. Testing and development of the Chameleon sensor is ongoing, with testing continuing in Mozambique, Tanzania, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Farmers in Tanzania who are using it are already reporting that it has helped them cut down on irrigation and achieve higher yields.

Installation of Chameleon sensors and learning how to take readings. Source: ACIAR 

The original analogy of a ‘traffic light’ (green, orange and red), reflected in the title of the project was found unsuitable due to technical (orange is too close to red in sunlight) and sociological (orange means warning) reasons, and so the sensor was given a new name by African co-workers. That new name ‘Chameleon’ was chosen because it changes colour to reflect its surroundings blue (wet), green (moist) and red (dry).

First prototype of the Chameleon reader. Source: ACIAR

Further information:
  • The final report on ‘A traffic light soil water sensor for resource poor farmers: proof of concept’ (FSC/2013/002) is available through the ACIAR website: http://aciar.gov.au/publication/fr2014-18
  • Information on the National Research Foundation and the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement can be found here: http://www.saasta.ac.za/

By Elise Crabb (ACIAR Communications and Stakeholder Engagement), with contributions from Dr Ikenna Mbawke (Chameleon project) and Dr Evan Christen (ACIAR RPM for Land and Water Resources).

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