Agro-Weather services in Ethiopia in public-private partnership

Published on 28 October 2020 by Tamara Lancel

Climate change is impacting on global food production. The risks of crop failure due to climate change-induced weather variability are highest in small-scale agriculture, which is often rain-fed. On the positive side, mobile phones and other new communication technologies offer great opportunities to digitalize agricultural services, especially in remote places. Weather and climate information services are also improving thanks to the widespread availability of satellite data, while web-interfaces, APIs and other IT technology enable easy dissemination of this information.

Weather Impact has written an article that highlights these opportunities and how we have put them into practice in North-West Ethiopia in a public-private partnership of Ethiopian and Dutch partners. Thanks to this partnership, around 10,000 farmers in Ethiopia’s sesame-growing area now receive a weather forecasting service on their mobile phone. In this article we share lessons learned from this five-year programme and also our views on improving and sustainably implementing last-mile weather and climate services.

The major lesson learned from this programme is that National Meteorological and Hydrological Services play an essential role in the partner chain of weather services. They are the mandated institution and need to be at the core of the service development. Yet most of these institutes in Africa lack the capacity and financial resources to take on this role. We believe that public-private partnerships have the potential to empower these institutions to take on this challenging task. This article contains practical ideas on how a sustainable partnership can be achieved, with our aim being to share the lessons we learned in Ethiopia:

  1. Twice-weekly localized weather forecasts by mobile phone can make an essential difference to farmers’ day-to-day farm management;
  2. Institutionalization of the service delivery within the National Meteorological Agency and cooperation with other government bodies is necessary to ensure long-term continuity of the services;
  3. High-quality, high-quantity local weather data are necessary for validating weather forecasts in Ethiopia’s various climatic zones;
  4. Global models and cloud IT infrastructure solutions enable efficient delivery of high-quality services;
  5. Capacity-building and development are essential for establishing a successful service;
  6. Public and private partners can co-create to develop the business case for weather and climate data.
    Partner chain for weather services provided to Ethiopian sesame farmers. Operational service delivery is indicated by the black arrows, while examples of capacity-building activities / knowledge transfers are indicated by the grey arrows.

We believe that the experience we gained in Ethiopia has a wider application and so want to share it with initiatives taking place in or planned for other regions and countries. The need to adapt to climate change is a local challenge that is presenting itself across the world. We hope to inspire current and potential new partners to develop local weather information services in sustainable partnership with their National Meteorological and Hydrological Services.

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“We learned that, to be sustainable, a service of this type needs patience, determination and a collaborative attitude. We can all learn from each other and build a partnership that creates value for us all.”

Tomaso Ceccarelli, Senior Researcher – Global Food Security, Wageningen Environmental Research, and Project Leader for the Geodata 4 Agriculture and Water project ‘CommonSense’