Agro-meteorological advisory services for Africa
Farmers in Sub Saharan Africa face enormous challenges due to a changing climate, limited farm inputs, poor physical, financial and socio-economic infrastructure and lack of information to make informed decisions. To answer all these challenges and uncertainties, the different players operating in the agro-sector, need accurate and reliable information services to support decisions around farm and crop management, application of farm inputs (seeds, nutrients, water), logistics and storage of farm outputs (produced goods) and managing risks (provision of credit and insurance). Such services will help to mitigate risks of decreased productivity (or even crop failure), in-efficient use of input, less effective logistics, inability to repay loans etc.
Currently several agro-advisory services do exist in SSA but these are usually developed and operated within the context of a project lacking the proper balance between good business and institutional models, to sustain services after the project’s lifetime. It is key that services are relevant (right type of advice), affordable (preferably free for smallholders), accurate and reliable (sustained service delivery), as well as institutionally viable.
This scoping study was conducted by Wageningen Environmental Research. It aimed to: 1) prioritize countries in Sub Saharan Africa for launching argo-meteorological services by looking at several criteria e.g. institutional readiness, policy environment, local partners, (short term projected) penetration of smart phone, existing similar services, and 2) set-up a demonstration case for Kenya building with 150.000 farmers. This project is funded by Seed Money Projects – Topsector Agro Food.
Climate advisory services in EquiFarm Integrated Digital Platform
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has granted Equity Group Foundation to scale up the EquiFarm Integrated Digital Platform. The platform is used to inform farmers with climate advisory services on the current weather and best farming practices, but also on access to finance and markets. Weather Impact and NEO worked as partners before in the CropMon project in delivering information services to the farmers of EGF. Now we bundle our expertise again to scale up those digital services and reach more farmers.
All registered farmers receive a localized weather update twice a week directly on their phone through SMS. The first weather message of the month also contains a seasonal outlook to the weather conditions of the next 3 months.
During the project, we will further develop the SMS service by integrating information on best farming practices. We also will use the Weather4Farmers app to deliver weather information to farmers with a smartphone that have access to internet.
Every month Weather Impact issues a weather bulletin to provide Equity Group Foundation with weather information and agricultural advice for Kenyan farmers. The bulletin includes a clear weather overview of the previous month and an seasonal outlook for the coming three months. A look back to last month can help the user to link the weather they experienced to an image on a map. This helps them to interpret the seasonal forecast. These forecasts are valuable to farmers as they can for example indicate whether the onset of the rain season is to be expected. Farmers can then anticipate the planning of the growing season accordingly.
Fig. 1 The rainfall forecast for June-July-August (JJA), which displays drier than normal conditions in the west, dry season in the center and wetter that normal conditions near the coast.
Crop Monitoring for Kenyan farmers
Irregular rainfall due to climate change is posing huge challenges on Kenya’s rainfed agriculture. To support agribusinesses to adapt to climate change and become more climate resilient, good quality weather and climate information is needed.
In CropMon project an information service is developed for farmers, farmer organizations and other stakeholders in Kenya. The CropMon service provides local information on (1) weather forecasts, (2) current crop growth and (3) how crop growth can be influenced by adjusting farm management practices. Weather Impact delivers the weather forecasts and monitors current weather conditions for this service.
Satellite, weather and field soil data are combined to monitor the status of crop growth. Based on this information, an advice is given to improve crop growth. The advice ranges from crop or soil management, irrigation, run-off control, or the use of fertilizers. Farmers receive advisory text messages (SMS) on a regular basis. For farmer organisations and other stakeholders, smartphone- and web-applications are developed. Our service is constantly improving, by using farmers’ feedback and collected data.
Weather Impact has provided weekly weather forecast messages, which were sent out by SMS to the farmers. Furthermore, Weather Impact has provided temperature and precipitation monitoring products, agro-meteorological indicators, historic weather information and weather and climate analyses to the project.
Fig.2 Weather forecast SMS for farmers
Over 190,000 individual farm households were impacted by the service during the project. The average improvements of yield, input use efficiency (seeds, fertilizers and herbicides) and farm income respectively amounted to 15%, 100% and 46%. CropMon is a project from the Geodata 4 Agriculture and Water facility, funded by the Netherlands Space Office. The partners in this project are;
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