IEEE Volunteers Growing Food and Opportunities in Nicaragua

Joint-funding program fuels partnership in HAC and EDS

IEEE volunteers worked together to benefit a local community and further their own skills by joining the humanitarian technology project, Automated and Sustainable Drip Irrigation System in Rural Nicaragua. As part of the new joint-funding project model, IEEE Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology (SIGHT) and IEEE Electron Devices Society (EDS) provided co-funding to maximize project impact.

The local community benefited from job creation and fruit harvesting while IEEE volunteers developed technical and professional skills and networked within IEEE. IEEE SIGHT and EDS volunteers and local IEEE members and student members formed the project team.

“Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Many rural areas usually have problems with access to water, energy, job, and business opportunities. We decided to provide access to water to improve agricultural practices for the community and the quality of living. Our approach would also help the community create a sustainable business idea through the use of appropriate technology including a photovoltaic system, electronic sensors, weather station, and automated water pumping system,” says Mario Aleman, IEEE EDS and SIGHT volunteer from Nicaragua who served on the project team.

The IEEE volunteers in Nicaragua partnered with La Paz Carazo community to install the efficient water irrigation system. The project team realized that sustainable irrigation through the community center will spur additional community empowerment, micro-enterprise business opportunities, and a unique educational model.

When considering a project proposal for funding, IEEE SIGHT measures it against three pillars:

  1. The feasibility and sustainability of the technology being used,
  2. The needs of the local community, and
  3. The involvement of local partners.

“Everything needs to be relevant to local communities and respect the culture. This bottom-up approach drives the innovation cycle and makes the project scalable,” says Sampathkumar Veeraraghavan, 2020 IEEE SIGHT Chair and 2021 IEEE Humanitarian Activities Committee (HAC) Chair.

For the Nicaragua project, the team installed a water irrigation system embedded with a low-power consumption electronic micro-controller to allow efficient drip irrigation and assist growing of agricultural crops during periods of inadequate rainfall. The sustainable irrigation solution will enable community members to create more economic opportunities for local residents. Additionally, the extra access to electricity through a solar-powered system will support lighting and a computer or two to increase the hours for learning and the breadth of educational opportunities.

“EDS has a strong commitment to humanitarian and educational projects. Our goal is to live up to our vision of ‘Promoting excellence in the field of electron devices for the benefit of humanity.’ This project encompasses the three main areas that we seek to include in our projects; Education/Entrepreneurship/Energy while providing EDS members an opportunity to use their technical skills for the benefit of society,” says Fernando Guarin, EDS Past President.

“The creation of an automated and sustainable drip irrigation system was an opportunity to help others as well as work in a multidisciplinary experience with engineering students and professionals from different backgrounds including agronomy, computing, and electrical engineering. This helped us grow professionally,” says Aleman.

Student members served as leaders and co-leaders and participated in the coding and design of the risk system, agricultural analysis, and installation of the photovoltaic system.

“These projects provide opportunities for students and young professionals to gain real-world experience. It allows them to put their technical skills into action outside of the classroom and see the different areas of a project. It also helps them grow other skills, like communication,” says Veeraraghavan.

“Our volunteers who implemented this project have the opportunity to create a scientific article that can be presented at IEEE conferences such as the Latin American Electron Devices Conference (LAEDC),” says Aleman.

The team in Nicaragua plans to scale and replicate their project in underserved areas.

“This project constituted EDS’s first partnership with SIGHT. It enabled the funds from EDS and SIGHT to go farther and make a greater impact,” says Guarin.

In 2020, EDS granted US$25,000 to IEEE HAC/SIGHT in order to replicate the joint-funding model with other projects.

“We are looking to allocate a similar amount in 2021 and will be having a call for joint proposals in the near future,” says Guarin.

Joint-Funding Partnerships

“IEEE SIGHT is thankful to Society and Council leaders who are helping us engage and deliver the mission of IEEE. Societies and Councils are key. Their members have specific technical knowledge. These partnerships are a key global vision and strategic goal under my leadership for HAC/SIGHT. The programs provide a win-win model. Societies and Councils can engage members across the spectrum of their membership. Students get to develop skills and network within IEEE while Senior Members can mentor and share their expertise with the new generation of engineers. They are crafting a better future for their Society/Council,” says Veeraraghavan.

In 2019 and 2020, IEEE HAC/SIGHT rolled out joint partnerships with EDS, Microwave Theory and Techniques Society (MTT-S), Antennas and Propagation Society (AP-S), and Industry Applications Society (IAS). Several workshops were held to train Society members.

“One example was the workshop and HAC/SIGHT panel at the IEEE PowerAfrica Conference in Nigeria which inspired and connected many society volunteers in Africa to take part in Humanitarian technology activities,” says Veeraraghavan.

IEEE HAC/SIGHT plan to expand the joint partnerships initiative with additional Societies.

“Recently, we had discussions with IEEE Signal Processing Society (SPS), Photonics Society, Power and Energy Society (PES), AP-S, MTT-S, and EDS. We can’t wait to see the outcome of these efforts by the end of 2021,” says Veeraraghavan.

“We encourage other IEEE members to carry out community projects and enjoy the passion to give back and work together,” says Aleman.

To find out more about IEEE HAC/SIGHT funding opportunities, visit the HAC website. To request information about potential avenues for your Society to collaborate with IEEE HAC/SIGHT please write to hac-office@ieee.org.

2019 – 2020 SIGHT chair Sampath Veeraraghavan along with PowerAfrica organizing team visiting a local power station in Abuja, Nigeria in August 2019

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