Engineering a Low-cost Device to Monitor Irrigation in Rural Kenya (2021-2022)

The discovery of oil has led to a boom of development in remote regions of northern Kenya resulting in a more settled, less nomadic lifestyle. Near the rivers, farming communities organize informal irrigation programs, characterized by hand-dug, earth canals that spread in a complex network from the river. 

Irrigation schemes are essential for these settlements but are likely posing a significant health risk by supporting mosquito breeding. Although previously considered mostly unsuitable for malaria transmission, northern Kenya is experiencing unprecedented outbreaks of malaria. However, this risk can be mitigated if water flows regularly to flush out larvae or canals are allowed to dry completely at regular intervals.  

This project team reviewed the literature and interviewed experts to better understand the relationship between irrigation and vector borne diseases. Team members also conducted focus group discussions with local leadership and community members to understand how informal irrigation schemes are managed and the challenges associated with access to water.

Over the course of two semester, the team designed a tool to measure the fill and flow of water in hand-dug irrigation canals. Team members designed and tested prototypes of the device, tested the prototypes locally in both artificial and natural flow environments, and then traveled to Kenya to test the effectiveness of an advanced prototype in the field. Team members catalogued the presence of mosquito larva in proximity to the device and evaluated the performance of the device in detecting the movement of water in the canals as well as the feasibility of long-term deployment of the device.

Team members also worked to understand the irrigation process and brainstorm on how to improve the device to better suit the context and the needs of the community. 

Learn more about this project team by viewing the team's video.


Summer 2021 – Spring 2022

Team Outputs

Prototype device, including pen-source design plans, technical manual and irrigation monitoring guidelines 

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Image: Red Cross furrow irrigation project in Lukole, near Malindi, Kenya, by Climate Centre, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Red Cross furrow irrigation project in Lukole, Kenya.

Team Leaders

  • Marc Deshusses, Pratt School of Engineering-Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Hannah Meredith, Duke Global Health Institute
  • Patrick O'Meara, Consultant Engineer
  • Wendy Prudhomme-O'Meara, School of Medicine-Medicine: Infectious Diseases

/graduate Team Members

  • Vanessa Clairmont, Global Health - MSc
  • Shreya Dhawan, Master of Engineering Mgmt-MEG

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Keena Gao, Mechanical Engineering (BSE)
  • Bryan Gonzalez, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE)
  • Emily Hallock, Civil Engineering (BSE)
  • Jack Lawter, Mechanical Engineering (BSE)
  • Sunggun Lee, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)
  • Sophia McManus, Civil Engineering (BSE)
  • Gloria Odenyo, Civil Engineering (BSE)
  • Darienne Rogers, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Ann Saterbak, Pratt School of Engineering-Biomedical Engineering

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Samuel Ateya, Undergraduate Student, Turkana University College
  • Joseph Kipkoech, Moi University
  • Dennis Kiptarus, Undergraduate Student, Turkana University College
  • Andrew Obala, Moi University
  • Kenneth Wabwire, Turkana County Government