More than 90% of land farmed in Sub-Saharan Africa relies on rain as the primary source of water for agriculture. This makes planning around rainfall a true bottleneck of the farming process in this region. Farmers here depend on predictable rainy and dry seasons in order to best plan their farming activities, from land preparation and sowing of seeds to fertilizer application, harvesting, and storage of crops. However, the once-predictable rainfall patterns are undergoing significant changes due to climate change and pose incredible risks to yields and food security in the region. While efforts to combat the harmful effects of climate change are necessary, the reality is that the consequences of climate change are already being felt by people around the world, including smallholder farmers engaging in rain-fed agriculture. Thus, adaptation to these changing conditions is essential, hence, the need for accurate weather forecasts.
Adapting With Accurate Weather Forecasts
One of the most effective ways that farmers can adapt to changing rainfall patterns due to climate change is through the use of accurate weather forecasts. By planning around forecasted rainfall, farmers can sow on time to avoid the drying out of seeds. They can also select crop varieties best suited for the forecasted seasonal conditions, time the application of fertiliser to ensure effective uptake of nutrients, and plan timely harvests around forecasted dry conditions to avoid post-harvest loss. Nonetheless, in order to reap these benefits, these forecasts must be accurate. Consequentially, that is part of the problem – forecasting the weather in tropical climates, which have been most heavily impacted by climate change, is inherently difficult. Traditional forecasting models are typically less than 50% accurate for these regions. However, Ignitia has developed a forecasting model for the tropics that has a scientifically proven accuracy of 84%.
Ignitia uses this forecasting model to deliver accurate, hyper-localised forecasts to individuals in West Africa via SMS, a highly accessible method of communication. These forecasts equip farmers with the information they need to combat the negative impacts of changing rainfall patterns, enabling smallholder farmers to plan their farming activities around predicted rainfall. Ignitia has been providing these forecasts for years now and currently delivers forecasts to more than 900,000 individuals every day in Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Mali. Ignitia has two channels through which forecasts are delivered: individuals can subscribe directly through a mobile network operator or by engaging in partnerships with organisations and companies that work directly with farmers in order to improve outcomes.
Accurate Weather Forecasts for Climate-Smart Agriculture in Africa
In 2019, Ignitia worked with several organisations committed to improving outcomes and livelihoods for smallholder farmers to provide localised and highly accurate forecasts to thousands of farmers. In Burkina Faso, for instance, Ignitia’s partnerships with Yennenga Progress and another NGO enabled more than 5,000 smallholder farmers to receive subsidised forecasts. In Nigeria, working with 2SCALE, well over 1,000 farmers were able to receive Ignitia’s weather forecasts.
Ignitia’s project with an NGO in Burkina Faso delivered forecasts to more than 4000 rice and sesame farmers in Western Burkina Faso through November 2019 and evaluations of the impacts of the weather forecasts are ongoing. The farmers have reported satisfaction with the service, highlighted by 98.6% of farmers indicating that the forecasts were either “always” or “often” accurate in a mid-project evaluation.
Also in Burkina Faso, the partnership with Yennenga Progress delivered partially subsidised forecasts to more than 1000 farmers in the Plateau-Central Region, located northeast of the country’s capital city of Ouagadougou. A training-of-trainers program for 22 extension workers enabled the farmers working with Yennenga to benefit from close, weekly contact with these extension workers now certified in teaching farmers how to maximize the benefits of receiving weather forecasts via SMS.
Additionally, in Nigeria, Ignitia partnered with 2SCALE, one of the largest inclusive agribusiness incubators and accelerators in Africa, to deliver daily weather forecasts to 1400 farmers. The project being implemented in Katsina State and Sokoto State in northwest Nigeria focused on onion and sorghum farmers. These farmers received forecasts in the local language of Hausa, one of the most widely spoken languages in West Africa. While a final evaluation is ongoing, a mid-trial evaluation indicated that 95.2% of farmers receiving forecasts reported that they have used the information in the forecasts to improve their farming activities. Additionally, 98.4% of farmers reported that the forecasts were either “always” or “often” accurate.
Further Evaluation and Expectations
Over the next few months, end-of-season evaluations will be conducted for the ongoing projects mentioned. Nonetheless, based on the results achieved thus far in 2019, including an 83% forecast accuracy in Burkina Faso and 96% accuracy in Nigeria, expectations are high as key outcomes such as yields and input usage will be measured through interviews with the participating farmers.
Accurate weather forecasts are essential for farmers in the tropics. Hence, looking towards 2020, Ignitia remains committed to addressing the challenges inherent in rainfed agriculture. In order to ensure that the benefits of farmers involved in these projects are sustainable, Ignitia also offers the forecasts directly to individuals, who can subscribe to forecasts through mobile network operators. Additionally, to ensure that farmers who receive subsidized forecasts through various projects continue to experience improved livelihoods, conversion of farmers from project to paid subscribers is essential. Thus, implementing projects designed to encourage such conversion is a key area of focus moving forward.
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