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IoT Manages Nutrient-Rich Milling in Africa

The Sanku-Project Healthy Children program, which brings micronutrients to undernourished children, is using Internet of Things technology to access data regarding the nutrient mixers it plans to provide to thousands of mills around Africa.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 25, 2018

Charitable group Sanku has found that bringing vitamins and minerals to small local mills spread across Africa is the best way to ensure that children receive the nourishment they need. But managing those mills remotely proved to be a challenge as the organization has aimed to equip 3,000 mills with automated technology during the next four years. The Internet of Things (IoT) is providing the solution, with a network from Vodafone. The U.K.-based telecommunication company is working with Sanku to enable cellular-based, automatic collection of data from mills across Africa.

Sanku was founded to address nutrient deficiencies in children. The organization has designed a system by which small-scale mills throughout developing countries mix flour with nutrient supplements and share data about the process, using sensors and cellular-based connections. The project uses Sanku's machines, known as dosifiers, to mix the supplements and milled flour.

Felix Brooks-Church
Approximately 45 percent of child deaths globally are due to malnutrition, according to the World Health Organization. The problem is especially acute among African children. Most meals in Africa rely heavily on starchy flour, which means many children are deficient in key nutrients found in other plant-based foods and meats.

Sanku developed the dosifier to add nutrients into the flour, which can then be used to make cereals and breads eaten by children and adults in the geographic area around the mill. The dosifiers add vitamins and minerals such as iron, folic acid, iodine, vitamin A and zinc to the flour, in order to create a healthier version of the food people eat most, says Felix Brooks-Church, Sanku-PHC's co-founder, president and CEO.

Each mill has the capacity to process more than one metric ton of flour daily. The dosifiers use built0in sensors to detect the weight of grain in the hopper. Concentrated nutrients are placed in another dispenser, and are added to the flour as the grain is processed. The sensors identify the outflow of grain based on weight, then prompt the dispensing of the nutrients into the mix in proportion to the loss of weight. That sensor data is also collected and stored in the machine to indicate how much flour and nutrients have been used.

However, the machines require some human intervention by Sanku's staff. The supplements need to be replenished periodically, and the machines need to be maintained, as well as repaired if they break down. Sanku must also track whether the machines are being used properly.

Workers could not access the data from the machines themselves without appearing physically onsite. However, getting employees onsite to the many mills across such a wide area poses a challenge. Prior to the deployment of the IoT-based system with Vodafone, Sanku relied on in-person site visits and paper reporting to monitor flour mills. One Sanku worker could then support 25 mills with periodic visits.

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