Video: FarmOS @ NOFA summer conference


farmOS is a web-based application for farm management, planning, and record keeping.

It is built on Drupal, which makes it modular, extensible, and secure.

Openlayers is used for mapping and geodata manipulation.

2016 NOFA Summer Conference

Michael Stenta presented a farmOS workshop at the 2016 NOFA Summer Conference. It covers the core features of farmOS, how to get started, where to find help, and how to contribute back to the project.

2016 GODAN Summit: global open data for agriculture and nutrition

GODAN is very pleased to announce the GODAN Summit 2016.

This exciting, high-level public event will take place in New York City, New York, USA on September 15-16, 2016 to advance the agenda for open data in agriculture and nutrition.

Open data is at the centre of innovation in agriculture, food security and nutrition. Data is elemental to identify needs, track progress and make change happen.

This event will offer the unique opportunity to showcase actual impact of open data across the world and underscore the importance of data in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2 – Zero Hunger.

The Summit will bring together leaders, researchers, farmers, students, and others – public, private and non-profit, united around collaboration on agriculture and nutrition data openness.

The GODAN Summit will be open to the public with existing GODAN partners having first priority to attend.

Registration is now open. Sponsorship opportunities are available for GODAN partners, please contact us for further information.

Further details about sessions and speakers will be announced shortly.

Make plans now to join the biggest event ever planned for open data in agriculture and nutrition!


Register on Eventbrite


Request for proposals to participate in an exhibit hall that will illustrate the opening of data, the use of open data, and the importance of open data are now being accepted.

Deadline for proposals: Extended to July 22, 2016


Stay up to date with the latest 2016 GODAN Summit on our social media pages:




From the soil to the circuit: My experiences at FarmHackNL

– by Rowland Marshall

This time tomorrow I’ll be sitting on a high speed train hurtling through the countryside from Amsterdam to Paris.  It’s about three hours from there to my current home in the French capital, which itself is a further 16,547km away from my place of birth in Brisbane, Australia.  A thin pane of glass will separate my body, travelling through space at 300km/hr, from those of the cattle standing still in the fields adjacent to the tracks of the Thalys TGV.  But that is tomorrow, and today it is I who am in the field, standing still in the breeze beside a row of potatoes as the rest of the earth takes its turn to move.

The technology-rich world of high-speed rail seems miles apart from the seemingly stationary world of fields and crops, and yet today it is the train that feels out-dated, for flying just a few metres above me is a drone gracefully turning laps above the potatoes like an olympic athlete turns laps in a swimming pool.  In a few short moments the drone will land all by itself, and a stream of data will flow from its belly and into my computer, and it is then that my work will begin.

…we share a common passion for [technology], agriculture and the environment, and we’d like to see how we can use our skills to have a positive impact.

I am here in the Onstwedde region of the Netherlands on the farm of Nanne Sterenborg, taking part in the second weekend of FarmHackNL.  There are about 30 of us all together – farmers, business persons, geo-hydraulogists, geo-spacial scientists, programmers, engineers and more; all sitting in one of the more unconventional hacker spaces I’ve experienced to date.  There are tools and drums of farm chemicals against one wall, a truck parked in the corner, and a dust-encrusted wash station by the door.  Amidst all this, our inflatable couches, robots and glowing computer screens look a little out of place.  We’ve come here from all manner of towns and backgrounds because we share a common passion for agriculture and the environment, and we’d like to see how we can use our skills to have a positive impact.  Each person tells a different story – for my part I’m an electronic/software engineer-turned-medical designer-turned-drone research project manager-turned-French MBA graduate (phew!) with a love for the land that I inherited from my parents and the many aunts, uncles and cousins who have hosted my awkward city-dwelling self over the years on their farms around the Australian outback.  My reasons for being here are twofold – (i) the first being to escape the dirty streets of Paris for the cleaner air and dirt of the countryside again; and (ii), to see if I can humbly offer my skills in exchange for the further enrichment of my understanding of agriculture, food security, and the role of technology in the environment.

The weekend began with a brief presentation of the farm itself by Nanne Sterenborg, followed by an overview of the two days ahead from the FarmHackNL team.  The idea is simply to come together over the proceeding 36 hours to try to solve as many problems on the farm as we can.  This weekend’s theme centres on data, and in advance we have been provided with a mixture of satellite and drone imagery to play with in addition to the live data collected on the day.  The group broke into several different teams – one looks at trying to automatically identify pests on the crops from digital images; another looks to improve the communication between analysis and farm equipment; whilst others are improving the way farmers can use the multitude of data to better manage their fields.  Nanne bounces between the teams, smiling the whole time, answering our questions and listening to our views on where the various technologies are headed in the future.  This continues through the night and early into the morning, with the FarmHackNL team in the background providing us with a steady flow of coffee, support and encouragement.

By early this morning, great progress has been made.  One team has already demonstrated a new improvement for crop spraying by way of a late night tractor-test, and others have built early prototypes of their own ideas.   It is now late afternoon on the second day, and our ideas have all been formerly presented to the whole group, with awards going to the two teams with the best results, and the “open source” award for contribution of code and ideas to the farm hack community.  The weekend is drawing to a close, and as we begin to pack up we are laughing and exchanging contact details in order to continue the conversations and work down the line.

There’s a common misconception held about farmers that suggests they are part of a backwards industry that drags at the heels of technological advancement.  In my experience this couldn’t be further from the truth.  On any given day a farmer is a meteorologist, chemist, mechanic, scientist, businessperson and so much more; and to this polymathic existence will soon be added roboticist and programmer.  Gert, the son of Nanne, is the very embodiment of the next-wave agriculturalist (who, by the way, can also add “pilot” to the skills list). Part farmer, part programmer, he has drifted from team to team throughout the weekend, offering his unique perspective whilst at the same time listening to the expertise of the seasoned technologists amongst us.  With the mounting need to feed 9 billion people by 2050 whilst at the same time reducing the impact on the environment, the role of robotics and artificial intelligence in the agriculture and environmental industries is only going to intensify.  As my good friend Jaymis always says, I love living in the future, and it is great to meet someone like Gert who is leading the charge.

For too long the vast majority of the tech industry has operated on a “push” principle

At the same time, there is still a long way to go to bridge the current gap between the soil and the circuit.  I firmly believe that no one person can be a master of all domains,  and that each is capable of contributing their part to the whole.  For too long the vast majority of the tech industry has operated on a “push” principle where they have forced the extolled virtues of their products onto the customer, rather than employing a “pull” principle where the customer extracts the solution they need out of the opportunities the industry can provide.   In the past this has lead to death-by-features, over promising, and disappointment.  As a technology provider and an advocate for my industries, I firmly believe that it’s a great thing to understand the customer, but it’s a beautiful dance when you understand each other.  Hack events like this provide a great opportunity for this interaction, and that’s why you’ll continue to find me “in the field”; be it an actual field of potatoes, a rainforest, a construction site, or even a train station; rather than just behind a desk thinking I know what’s best.

There’s one thing I haven’t mentioned yet – as the only foreigner in the room this weekend I find myself swimming in a pool of Dutch speakers who graciously tic-tac between languages in order to make sure I am included and kept up to speed as the weekend progresses.  I am extremely grateful for their kindness and patience.   Despite getting lost from time to time, one thing has quickly become clear to me – you don’t need to speak the same language to understand passion, and that, at the end of the day, is what FarmHackNL has been all about.

The author would like to particularly thank Anne Bruinsma, Linda Haartsen & Simeon Nedkov of FarmHackNL; and the entire Sterenborg Family.  Dank u wel!

French farm hackers L’Atelier Paysan host annual gathering June 17-19

Event page @

Come and join us for a weekend in June on a Burgundy farm! Atelier Paysan is organising a gathering on the 17th, 18th and 19th June 2016 : AGM, agricultural DIY fair, practical workshops, talks, concerts and banquets…

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3 days in June to include in your cropping plan!

BOOK YOUR TICKETS NOW! 3 days in June where you can meet fellow farmers, have a go at welding and other metal work, get an overview of the technical innovations in our network, as well as feedback your reflections and imagine together the cooperative’s future.

We have organised more workshops and debates to oil up our rusty skills and jump start our enthusiasm to take part and learn! To break the ice, nothing better than a banquet and some good wine. And with spirited concerts in the evening, this will be a real Rock & Roll adventure!

Friday 17th June Saturday 18th June Sunday 19th June
Welcome, Atelier Paysan’s AGM 1st agricultural DIY fair: reports and demonstrations of the network’s machinery and agricultural building designs

Take part in a workshop whatever your level of skill:

  • workshop to convert the host farm’s equipment to the quick hitch triangle system.
  • workshop modifying a piece of kit
  • Making a pedal powered agricultural tool with Farming Soul
  • Constructing a mobile pig shelter (wood and metal)
  • Making a ’Piggott’ wind turbine
  • Making a seed cleaning machine
  • Arduino (open-source electronics: irrigation control, thermal sensor controls)
  • Introduction to sharpening drill bits and metal tools, etc.
Farming DIY award ceremony following a morning of debates.
Lunchtime: Banquet Lunchtime: Banquet Lunchtime: Banquet
2pm: setting up agricultural DIY fair, first demonstrations, first workshops, first talks Afternoon: continuation of morning activities Afternoon: Collective Tidy up!
6pm: Big Conference 6pm: Big Conference
Concert & Barbecue Live at Château! Rock Noise and Organic wine! Des vignerons cossus et des guitaristes qui démangent…

The final programme (in French)

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> Download

In Burgundy: The Domaine Saint Laurent (a farm producing meat, dairy products, vegetables and wood) is in the parish of Château, 2 kms outside the town of Cluny in Bourgogne (

It’s easy to reach !
By train: TGV train station of Mâcon with regular shuttles onto Cluny
By car: One hour north of Lyon, 20 mins from Mâcon.

What will we eating?
Breakfast and lunch for all 3 days is included in price, as well as Friday evening’s barbecue, provided by Le Pain sur la Table, an organic caterer ( You will however have to pay for your wine-inspired conversations. Wine producers will be there to provision you…

Where will we sleep?
You can camp on the farm, or rented accommodation. Arrivals from Thursday evening onwards.

To book a place, fill in this google form (in English).

More informations with Julien Reynier:

The Cuban Allis-Chalmers G

Clebber LLC has developed a new tractor based on the design of the old Allis-Chalmers G tractor, released in 1940 and discontinued in 1955 as American farm equipment quickly grew in size and complexity. Many of these old G’s are still alive and well on small American farms, and Clebber has designed this tractor, called Oggun after a deity in the Santorian culture, to serve the purposes of small subsistence and production farmers that comprise nearly all of Cuba’s farming population.

The Oggun design makes some improvements on the old G, releasing all designs as open source and using standard, off-the-shelf components rather than proprietary parts to make the tractor easy to maintain and fix.

Clebber is a partnership of two Americans, and is the first company approved to be founded in Cuba after the lifting of the U.S. -Cuba trade embargo.

Video from NPR story First U.S. Factory OK’d For Cuba Aims to Plow a Path Into the 21st Century

How to Build a Low-tech Internet

This piece was published by Low-Tech Magazine. The original article can be found here.


Tegola project low-tech internet 3

Wireless internet access is on the rise in both modern consumer societies and in the developing world.

In rich countries, however, the focus is on always-on connectivity and ever higher access speeds. In poor countries, on the other hand, connectivity is achieved through much more low-tech, often asynchronous networks.

While the high-tech approach pushes the costs and energy use of the internet higher and higher, the low-tech alternatives result in much cheaper and very energy efficient networks that combine well with renewable power production and are resistant to disruptions.

If we want the internet to keep working in circumstances where access to energy is more limited, we can learn important lessons from alternative network technologies. Best of all, there’s no need to wait for governments or companies to facilitate: we can build our own resilient communication infrastructure if we cooperate with one another. This is demonstrated by several community networks in Europe, of which the largest has more than 35,000 users already.


Picture: A node in the Scottish Tegola Network.

More than half of the global population does not have access to the “worldwide” web. Up to now, the internet is mainly an urban phenomenon, especially in “developing” countries. Telecommunication companies are usually reluctant to extend their network outside cities due to a combination of high infrastructure costs, low population density, limited ability to pay for services, and an unreliable or non-existent electricity infrastructure. Even in remote regions of “developed” countries, internet connectivity isn’t always available.

Internet companies such as Facebook and Google regularly make headlines with plans for connecting these remote regions to the internet. Facebook tries to achieve this with drones, while Google counts on high-altitude balloons. There are major technological challenges, but the main objection to these plans is their commercial character. Obviously, Google and Facebook want to connect more people to the internet because that would increase their revenues. Facebook especially receives lots of criticism because their network promotes their own site in particular, and blocks most other internet applications. [1]

Meanwhile, several research groups and network enthusiasts have developed and implemented much cheaper alternative network technologies to solve these issues. Although these low-tech networks have proven their worth, they have received much less attention. Contrary to the projects of internet companies, they are set up by small organisations or by the users themselves. This guarantees an open network that benefits the users instead of a handful of corporations. At the same time, these low-tech networks are very energy efficient.

WiFi-based Long Distance Networks

Most low-tech networks are based on WiFi, the same technology that allows mobile access to the internet in most western households. As we have seen in the previous article, sharing these devices could provide free mobile access across densely populated cities. But the technology can be equally useful in sparsely populated areas. Although the WiFi-standard was developed for short-distance data communication (with a typical range of about 30 metres), its reach can be extended through modifications of the Media Access Control (MAC) layer in the networking protocol, and through the use of range extender amplifiers and directional antennas. [2]

Although the WiFi-standard was developed for short-distance data communication, its reach can be extended to cover distances of more than 100 kilometres.

The longest unamplified WiFi link is a 384 km wireless point-to-point connection between Pico El Águila and Platillón in Venezuela, established a few years ago. [3,4] However, WiFi-based long distance networks usually consist of a combination of shorter point-to-point links, each between a few kilometres and one hundred kilometers long at most. These are combined to create larger, multihop networks. Point-to-points links, which form the backbone of a long range WiFi network, are combined with omnidirectional antennas that distribute the signal to individual households (or public institutions) of a community.

Tegola project low-tech internetPicture: A relay with three point-to-point links and three sectoral antennae. Tegola.

Long-distance WiFi links require line of sight to make a connection — in this sense, the technology resembles the 18th century optical telegraph. [5] If there’s no line of sight between two points, a third relay is required that can see both points, and the signal is sent to the intermediate relay first. Depending on the terrain and particular obstacles, more hubs may be necessary. [6]

Point-to-point links typically consist of two directional antennas, one focused on the next node and the other on the previous node in the network. Nodes can have multiple antennas with one antenna per fixed point-to-point link to each neighbour. [7] This allows mesh routing protocols that can dynamically select which links to choose for routing among the available ones. [8]

Long-distance WiFi links require line of sight to make a connection — in this sense, the technology resembles the 18th century optical telegraph.

Distribution nodes usually consist of a sectoral antenna (a small version of the things you see on mobile phone masts) or a conventional WiFi-router, together with a number of receivers in the community. [6] For short distance WiFi-communication, there is no requirement for line of sight between the transmitter and the receiver. [9]

To provide users with access to the worldwide internet, a long range WiFi network should be connected to the main backbone of the internet using at least one “backhaul” or “gateway node”. This can be a dial-up or broadband connection (DSL, fibre or satellite). If such a link is not established, users would still be able to communicate with each other and view websites set up on local servers, but they would not be able to access the internet. [10]

Advantages of Long Range WiFi

Litebeam M5Long range WiFi offers high bandwidth (up to 54 Mbps) combined with very low capital costs. Because the WiFi standard enjoys widespread acceptance and has huge production volumes, off-the-shelf antennas and wireless cards can be bought for very little money. [11] Alternatively, components can be put together from discarded materials such as old routers, satellite dish antennas and laptops. Protocols like WiLDNet run on a 266 Mhz processor with only 128 MB memory, so an old computer will do the trick. [7]

The WiFi-nodes are lightweight and don’t need expensive towers — further decreasing capital costs, and minimizing the impact of the structures to be built. [7] More recently, single units that combine antenna, wireless card and processor have become available. These are very convenient for installation. To build a relay, one simply connects such units together with ethernet cables that carry both signal and power. [6] The units can be mounted in towers or slim masts, given that they offer little windload. [3] Examples of suppliers of long range WiFi components are Ubiquity, Alvarion and MikroTik, and simpleWiFi.

Long Range WiFi makes use of unlicensed spectrum and offers high bandwidth, low capital costs, easy installation, and low power requirements.

Long range WiFi also has low operational costs due to low power requirements. A typical mast installation consisting of two long distance links and one or two wireless cards for local distribution consumes around 30 watts. [6,12] In several low-tech networks, nodes are entirely powered by solar panels and batteries. Another important advantage of long range WiFi is that it makes use of unlicensed spectrum (2.4 and 5 GHz), and thus avoids negotiations with telecom operators and government. This adds to the cost advantage and allows basically anyone to start a WiFi-based long distance network. [9]

Long Range WiFi Networks in Poor Countries

The first long range WiFi networks were set up ten to fifteen years ago. In poor countries, two main types have been built. The first is aimed at providing internet access to people in remote villages. An example is the Akshaya network in India, which covers the entire Kerala State and is one of the largest wireless networks in the world. The infrastructure is built around approximately 2,500 “computer access centers”, which are open to the local population — direct ownership of computers is minimal in the region. [13]

Another example, also in India, are the AirJaldi networks which provide internet access to approximately 20,000 users in six states, all in remote regions and on difficult terrain. Most nodes in this network are solar-powered and the distance between them can range up to 50 km or more. [14] In some African countries, local WiFi-networks distribute internet access from a satellite gateway. [15,16]


A node in the AirJaldi network. Picture: AirJaldi.

A second type of long distance WiFi network in poor countries is aimed at providing telemedicine to remote communities. In remote regions, health care is often provided through health posts scarcely equipped and attended by health technicians who are barely trained. [17] Long-range WiFi networks can connect urban hospitals with these outlying health posts, allowing doctors to remotely support health technicians using high-resolution file transfers and real-time communication tools based on voice and video.

An example is the link between Cabo Pantoja and Iquitos in the Loreto province in Peru, which was established in 2007. The 450 km network consists of 17 towers which are 16 to 50 km apart. The line connects 15 medical outposts in remote villages with the main hospital in Iquitos and is aimed at remote diagnosis of patients. [17,18] All equipment is powered by solar panels. [18,19] Other succesful examples of long range WiFi telemedicine networks have been built in India, Malawi and Ghana. [20,21]

WiFi-Based Community Networks in Europe

The low-tech networks in poor countries are set up by NGO’s, governments, universities or businesses. In contrast, most of the WiFi-based long distance networks in remote regions of rich countries are so-called “community networks”: the users themselves build, own, power and maintain the infrastructure. Similar to the shared wireless approach in cities, reciprocal resource sharing forms the basis of these networks: participants can set up their own node and connect to the network (for free), as long as their node also allows traffic of other members. Each node acts as a WiFi routing device that provides IP forwarding services and a data link to all users and nodes connected to it. [8,22]

In a community network, the users themselves build, own, power and maintain the infrastructure.

Consequently, with each new user, the network becomes larger. There is no a-priori overall planning. A community network grows bottom-up, driven by the needs of its users, as nodes and links are added or upgraded following demand patterns. The only consideration is to connect a node from a new participant to an existing one. As a node is powered on, it discovers it neighbours, attributes itself a unique IP adress, and then establishes the most appropriate routes to the rest of the network, taking into account the quality of the links. Community networks are open to participation to everyone, sometimes according to an open peering agreement. [8,9,19,22]

Guifi in en rond barcelona

Wireless links in the Spanish Guifi network. Credit.

Despite the lack of reliable statistics, community networks seem to be rather succesful, and there are several large ones in Europe, such as (Spain), Athens Wireless Metropolitan Network (Greece), FunkFeuer (Austria), and Freifunk (Germany). [8,22,23,24] The Spanish network  is the largest WiFi-based long distance network in the world with more than 50,000 kilometres of links, although a small part is based on optic fibre links. Most of it is located in the Catalan Pyrenees, one of the least populated areas in Spain. The network was initiated in 2004 and now has close to 30,000 nodes, up from 17,000 in 2012. [8,22] provides internet access to individuals, companies, administrations and universities. In principle, the network is installed, powered and maintained by its users, although volunteer teams and even commercial installers are present to help. Some nodes and backbone upgrades have been succesfully crowdfunded by indirect beneficiaries of the network. [8,22]

Performance of Low-tech Networks

So how about the performance of low-tech networks? What can you do with them? The available bandwidth per user can vary enormously, depending on the bandwidth of the gateway node(s) and the number of users, among other factors. The long-distance WiFi networks aimed at telemedicine in poor countries have few users and a good backhaul, resulting in high bandwidth (+ 40 Mbps). This gives them a similar performance to fibre connections in the developed world. A study of (a small part of) the community network, which has dozens of gateway nodes and thousands of users, showed an average throughput of 2 Mbps, which is comparable to a relatively slow DSL connection. Actual throughput per user varies from 700 kbps to 8 Mbps. [25]

The available bandwidth per user can vary enormously, depending on the bandwidth of the gateway node(s) and the number of users, among other factors

However, the low-tech networks that distribute internet access to a large user base in developing countries can have much more limited bandwidth per user. For example, a university campus in Kerala (India) uses a 750 kbps internet connection that is shared across 3,000 faculty members and students operating from 400 machines, where during peak hours nearly every machine is being used.

Therefore, the worst-case average bandwidth available per machine is approximately 1.9 kbps, which is slow even in comparison to a dial-up connection (56 kbps). And this can be considered a really good connectivity compared to typical rural settings in poor countries. [26] To make matters worse, such networks often have to deal with an intermittent power supply.


A node in the Spanish Guifi community network.

Under these circumstances, even the most common internet applications have poor performance, or don’t work at all. The communication model of the internet is based on a set of network assumptions, called the TCP/IP protocol suite. These include the existence of a bi-directional end-to-end path between the source (for example a website’s server) and the destination (the user’s computer), short round-trip delays, and low error rates.

Many low-tech networks in poor countries do not comform to these assumptions. They are characterized by intermittent connectivity or “network partitioning” — the absence of an end-to-end path between source and destination — long and variable delays, and high error rates. [21,27,28]

Delay-Tolerant Networks

Nevertheless, even in such conditions, the internet could work perfectly fine. The technical issues can be solved by moving away from the always-on model of traditional networks, and instead design networks based upon asynchronous communication and intermittent connectivity. These so-called “delay-tolerant networks” (DTNs) have their own specialized protocols overlayed on top of the lower protocols and do not utilize TCP. They overcome the problems of intermittent connectivity and long delays by using store-and-forward message switching.

Information is forwarded from a storage place on one node to a storage place on another node, along a path that eventually reaches its destination. In contrast to traditional internet routers, which only store incoming packets for a few milliseconds on memory chips, the nodes of a delay-tolerant network have persistent storage (such as hard disks) that can hold information indefinitely. [27,28]

Delay-tolerant networks combine well with renewable energy: solar panels or wind turbines could power network nodes only when the sun shines or the wind blows, eliminating the need for energy storage.

Delay-tolerant networks don’t require an end-to-end path between source and destination. Data is simply transferred from node to node. If the next node is unavailable because of long delays or a power outage, the data is stored on the hard disk until the node becomes available again. While it might take a long time for data to travel from source to destination, a delay-tolerant network ensures that it will eventually arrive.

Delay-tolerant networks further decrease capital costs and energy use, leading to the most efficient use of scarce resources. They keep working with an intermittent energy supply and they combine well with renewable energy sources: solar panels or wind turbines could power network nodes only when the sun shines or the wind blows, eliminating the need for energy storage.

Data Mules

Delay-tolerant networking can take surprising forms, especially when they take advantage of some non-traditional means of communication, such as “data mules”. [11,29] In such networks, conventional transportation technologies — buses, cars, motorcycles, trains, boats, airplanes — are used to ferry messages from one location to another in a store-and-forward manner.

Examples are DakNet and KioskNet, which use buses as data mules. [30-34] In many developing regions, rural bus routes regularly visit villages and towns that have no network connectivity. By equipping each vehicle with a computer, a storage device and a mobile WiFi-node on the one hand, and by installing a stationary WiFi-node in each village on the other hand, the local transport infrastructure can substitute for a wireless internet link. [11]

Airjaldi epostmanPicture: AirJaldi.

Outgoing data (such as sent emails or requests for webpages) is stored on local computers in the village until the bus comes withing range. At this point, the fixed WiFi-node of the local computer automatically transmits the data to the mobile WiFi-node of the bus. Later, when the bus arrives at a hub that is connected to the internet, the outgoing data is transmitted from the mobile WiFi-node to the gateway node, and then to the internet. Data sent to the village takes the opposite route. The bus — or data — driver doesn’t require any special skills and is completely oblivious to the data transfers taking place. He or she does not need to do anything other than come in range of the nodes. [30,31]

In a data mules network, the local transport infrastructure substitutes for a wireless internet link.

The use of data mules offers some extra advantages over more “sophisticated” delay-tolerant networks. A “drive-by” WiFi network allows for small, low-cost and low-power radio devices to be used, which don’t require line of sight and consequently no towers — further lowering capital costs and energy use compared to other low-tech networks. [30,31,32]

The use of short-distance WiFi-links also results in a higher bandwidth compared to long-distance WiFi-links, which makes data mules better suited to transfer larger files. On average, 20 MB of data can be moved in each direction when a bus passes a fixed WiFi-node. [30,32] On the other hand, latency (the time interval between sending and receiving data) is usually higher than on long-range WiFi-links. A single bus passing by a village once a day gives a latency of 24 hours.

Delay-Tolerant Software

Obviously, a delay-tolerant network (DTN) — whatever its form — also requires new software: applications that function without a connected end-to-end networking path. [11] Such custom applications are also useful for synchronous, low bandwidth networks. Email is relatively easy to adapt to intermittent connectivity, because it’s an asynchronous communication method by itself. A DTN-enabled email client stores outgoing messages until a connection is available. Although emails may take longer to reach their destination, the user experience doesn’t really change.

Freifunk berlijn

A Freifunk WiFi-node is installed in Berlin, Germany. Picture: Wikipedia Commons.

Browsing and searching the web requires more adaptations. For example, most search engines optimize for speed, assuming that a user can quickly look through the returned links and immediately run a second modified search if the first result is inadequate. However, in intermittent networks, multiple rounds of interactive search would be impractical. [26,35] Asynchronous search engines optimize for bandwith rather than response time. [26,30,31,35,36] For example, RuralCafe desynchronizes the search process by performing many search tasks in an offline manner, refining the search request based on a database of similar searches. The actual retrieval of information using the network is only done when absolutely necessary.

Many internet applications could be adapted to intermittent networks, such as webbrowsing, email, electronic form filling, interaction with e-commerce sites, blogsoftware, large file downloads, or social media.

Some DTN-enabled browsers download not only the explicitly requested webpages but also the pages that are linked to by the requested pages. [30] Others are optimized to return low-bandwidth results, which are achieved by filtering, analysis, and compression on the server site. A similar effect can be achieved through the use of a service like Loband, which strips webpages of images, video, advertisements, social media buttons, and so on, merely presenting the textual content. [26]

Browsing and searching on intermittent networks can also be improved by local caching (storing already downloaded pages) and prefetching (downloading pages that might be retrieved in the future). [206] Many other internet applications could also be adapted to intermittent networks, such as electronic form filling, interaction with e-commerce sites, blogsoftware, large file downloads, social media, and so on. [11,30] All these applications would remain possible, though at lower speeds.


Obviously, real-time applications such as internet telephony, media streaming, chatting or videoconferencing are impossible to adapt to intermittent networks, which provide only asynchronous communication. These applications are also difficult to run on synchronous networks that have limited bandwidth. Because these are the applications that are in large part responsible for the growing energy use of the internet, one could argue that their incompatibility with low-tech networks is actually a good thing (see the previous article).

Furthermore, many of these applications could be organized in different ways. While real-time voice or video conversations won’t work, it’s perfectly possible to send and receive voice or video messages. And while streaming media can’t happen, downloading music albums and video remains possible. Moreover, these files could be “transmitted” by the most low-tech internet technology available: a sneakernet. In a sneakernet, digital data is “wirelessly” transmitted using a storage medium such as a hard disk, a USB-key, a flash card, or a CD or DVD. Before the arrival of the internet, all computer files were exchanged via a sneakernet, using tape or floppy disks as a storage medium.

Freight train

Stuffing a cargo train full of digital storage media would beat any digital network in terms of speed, cost and energy efficiency. Picture: Wikipedia Commons.

Just like a data mules network, a sneakernet involves a vehicle, a messenger on foot, or an animal (such as a carrier pigeon). However, in a sneakernet there is no automatic data transfer between the mobile node (for instance, a vehicle) and the stationary nodes (sender and recipient). Instead, the data first have to be transferred from the sender’s computer to a portable storage medium. Then, upon arrival, the data have to be transferred from the portable storage medium to the receiver’s computer. [30] A sneakernet thus requires manual intervention and this makes it less convenient for many internet applications.

There are exceptions, though. For example, a movie doesn’t have to be transferred to the hard disk of your computer in order to watch it. You play it straight from a portable hard disk or slide a disc into the DVD-player. Moreover, a sneakernet also offers an important advantage: of all low-tech networks, it has the most bandwidth available. This makes it perfectly suited for the distribution of large files such as movies or computer games. In fact, when very large files are involved, a sneakernet even beats the fastest fibre internet connection. At lower internet speeds, sneakernets can be advantageous for much smaller files.

Technological progress will not lower the advantage of a sneakernet. Digital storage media evolve at least as fast as internet connections and they both improve communication in an equal way.

Resilient Networks

While most low-tech networks are aimed at regions where the alternative is often no internet connection at all, their usefulness for well-connected areas cannot be overlooked. The internet as we know it in the industrialized world is a product of an abundant energy supply, a robust electricity infrastructure, and sustained economic growth. This “high-tech” internet might offer some fancy advantages over the low-tech networks, but it cannot survive if these conditions change. This makes it extremely vulnerable.

The internet as we know it in the industrialized world is a product of an abundant energy supply, a robust electricity infrastructure, and sustained economic growth. It cannot survive if these conditions change.

Depending on their level of resilience, low-tech networks can remain in operation when the supply of fossil fuels is interrupted, when the electricity infrastructure deteriorates, when the economy grinds to a halt, or if other calamities should hit. Such a low-tech internet would allow us to surf the web, send and receive e-mails, shop online, share content, and so on. Meanwhile, data mules and sneakernets could serve to handle the distribution of large files such as videos. Stuffing a cargo vessel or a train full of digital storage media would beat any digital network in terms of speed, cost and energy efficiency. And if such a transport infrastructure would no longer be available, we could still rely on messengers on foot, cargo bikes and sailing vessels.

Such a hybrid system of online and offline applications would remain a very powerful communication network — unlike anything we had even in the late twentieth century. Even if we envision a doom scenario in which the wider internet infrastructure would disintegrate, isolated low-tech networks would still be very useful local and regional communication technologies. Furthermore, they could obtain content from other remote networks through the exchange of portable storage media. The internet, it appears, can be as low-tech or high-tech as we can afford it to be.

Kris De Decker (edited by Jenna Collett)

Atelier Paysan, the French collaborative for open-source farm tools, now has an English language website!

Atelier Paysan is a great partner of Farm Hack and their website is a treasure trove of amazing information and tools, so we non-french speakers are very excited about this!

On the new English language version of the site, you can read about the work and structure of the cooperative organization, their events and trainings, general design and build methodologies, and tool descriptions with technical drawings.

Triangle Quick Hitch in action

One of these tools is the Triangle Quick Hitch, which was the focus of a Farm Hack event in 2012 and is also documented on the Farm Hack site.  This is a system several farms in the US have already implemented as a cheaper, open-source alternative to proprietary quick hitch systems, and one that is already more widespread in Europe.

Another precious nugget that Atelier Paysan has developed is the self-build guide:

With tutorials and technical drawings to build 16 tools adapted to organic vegetable production, this book is an instruction manual for becoming self-sufficient in terms of farming machinery. Included are principles of self-building, methods and techniques, regulatory considerations, and most importantly, examples of tools tested by vegetable growers presented in the form of building tutorials, allowing you to develop your skills and expertise around the tools you work with.

The guide is spiral bound and 246 pages long with a folding cover, designed to be easy to use and long lasting. It will accompany you in your farming project and throughout your career. It’s a source of inspiration which you can use and enrich with your own adaptations.

Unfortunately translating this guide book into English is a big project, so it has not yet been done. If you have several thousand dollars or an inclination to translate this technical manual, get in touch.

The work of Atelier Paysan in the field of training farmers and organizing collaborative development and building of tools for biological agriculture is truly inspiring to us, and we look forward to continue learning from and collaborating with them!