Vassar College, Growing Food Security with Simple Technology

Drought and famine are a fact of life for the people of La Paz Centro, Nicaragua. The town is one of the epicenters of water scarcity in Central America – the result of El Niño, the periodic weather phenomenon that diminishes rainfall on the Pacific Coast of the region, and which climate change is making worse. 

But an innovative project that combines engineering and bio-intensive agriculture is now underway, and it could contribute to greater food supplies in the face of unprecedented lack of rainfall and limited resources. 

The collaborative project is bringing together students from Vassar College, the University of Managua’s School of Engineering, and 20 high school students. The high school students are experimenting with simple circuit-board solar kits, a prototype water monitoring system with Arduino controllers, and credit card-sized Raspberry Pi computers as they work to come up with solutions to agricultural challenges. 

Artists for Soup, a US-based nonprofit working for food security, educational enrichment, and environment protection in La Paz Centro, is developing 70 bio-intensive garden beds at the high school. The students know that the need is urgent for innovative approaches to good grouping and irrigation. Thanks to a $2,300 EPICS grant, they are working with their university mentors in bi-weekly, after-school sessions to develop strategies for water collection and slow-drip irrigation. 

With assistance from a University of Managua student who is also an Artists for Soup agricultural technician, the high school students will be able to apply what they’ve learned into a real-life project. Once the garden system is up and functioning, they will take part in a program to demonstrate what they’ve learned.

Producing healthy food year-round in water scare parts of Central America is a growing challenge; according to the U.N. World Food Program, 2.8 million Central Americans suffered from seasonal hunger in 2014-2015.

With just a small amount of money, a little shared knowledge and simple technology, new agricultural methods are now being introduced to secondary students. They will see the results of their efforts as they produce food while also cultivating their knowledge of engineering.

Author: Michele Currenti

Michele is a creative content intern in Educational Activities at IEEE. She is currently pursing her masters in Voice & Opera at the University of Maryland, College Park. She also completed a Bachelor of Science in Brain & Cognitive Science at the University of Rochester and a Bachelor of Music at the Eastman School of Music. She is interested in finding the various intersections of science and the arts to better humanity.