Revolutionary Weather Forecasts for Tropical Agriculture

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In tropical West Africa, over 100 million small-scale farmers are responsible for up to 90% of the region’s food production. Yet, many small-scale farmers struggle to produce sufficient food to sustain their families and boost their income. These farmers often have limited access to the technologies and resources that would help them increase their productivity and reduce their risk to crop loss and ineffective use of agricultural inputs. Small-scale farmers deal with a difficult reality, in which their attempt at maximizing productivity is conditioned by their limited resources and vulnerability to shocks and stresses that can push them further into poverty.

With 98% of agriculture in tropical West Africa being rainfed, weather becomes another crucial variable for these farmers. With more variable weather patterns, extreme weather events, and overall drier conditions brought about by climate change, the typical farming season in West Africa is starting later, ending earlier, and is subject to more severe storms and dry spells that heighten the risk of crop loss and further threatening livelihoods and food security. Knowing when and how much it will rain helps farmers decide when to plant, apply fertilizer, hire labor, rent a tractor, harvest and conduct other relevant activities. Some of a farmers’ largest and most critical expenses are weather-dependent. For example, seeds and fertilizers need just the right amount of rain soon after sowing or application; too much or too little rain can result in these resources being washed away or becoming ineffective. Thus, the ability to effectively harness weather information for planning and decision-making can make the difference between a sparse and an abundant harvest.

Increasing access to timely and accurate weather information, especially in light of increasing climate variability, is key to enhancing farmers’ potential for increased yields and incomes. Yet, prior to Ignitia, such information has not existed for tropical West Africa, nor the Tropics more broadly. The global weather forecasting models that provide the data for most weather forecasting in the Tropics have been historically unreliable for predicting tropical weather, with less than a 40% forecast accuracy. The reason for this inaccuracy comes down to how these models have been built, which insufficiently accounts for the unique science driving tropical weather as well as the paucity of ground-based weather data available for the Tropics. Without access to accurate weather information, small-scale farmers in West Africa are devoid of a powerful information source to reduce risk and increase productivity.

Ignitia’s mission is to to empower intelligent decision-making through the provision of more accurate weather data that allows farmers to mitigate risks, stabilize operations, and maximise their profits. Understanding the criticalness of weather for West African agriculture, the challenges around its prediction, and the threats posed by climate change, Ignitia has developed a first-of-its-kind forecasting model optimized specifically for predicting tropical weather in the region. The forecasts produced by Ignitia’s model have over 84% accuracy, more than twice that of forecasts produced by global models in the Tropics.

Through our product, iskaTM, Ignitia delivers our highly accurate, location-specific weather forecasts directly to subscribers’ phones based on their GPS location. By using select keywords that can be easily recognized, SMS delivery that negates the need for internet or smartphones, and a low-cost subscription model that is sensitive to the seasonality of farmers’ incomes, Ignitia offers an accessible, trusted, and highly-effective decision-making tool for West Africa’s farmers. A subscription to iska includes daily, monthly, and seasonal forecasts. The daily 48-hour forecast provides information on the likelihood, timing, and intensity of rainfall, while monthly and seasonal forecasts predict whether the upcoming weeks or months will be drier and/or shorter than normal.

With iska forecasts, farmers can make more informed decisions to mitigate crop loss due to weather, increase their resilience through the adaptation of farming practices, and enhance their productivity through the better timing and use of critical resources. Results have shown that farmers not only trust Ignitia’s weather forecasts, but leverage the information to inform their farming practices, which has resulted in yield increases of 60% and income increases of over $400 (USD) on average. Farmers have reported less crop loss and input wastage, which has allowed them to make more productive use of less land and has even encouraged some to farm more land. With more income generated, farmers are able to cover school fees and household expenses, as well as reinvest some of their earnings back into their farms, such as by purchasing new equipment and higher quality seeds, which can lead to even greater productivity down the road. With iska, farmers can more confidently invest in their farms, take actions to increase their productivity, and reap the hard-earned rewards, while reducing their vulnerability to shocks and stresses. 1 in 5 of our farmers receiving iska forecasts have reported earning enough additional income to pull them above the $1.90/day threshold (international poverty line).

 

By enabling small-scale farmers to take decisions to increase their yields and incomes, Ignitia contributes to food system stabilization, greater food security, climate resilience, and economic growth. With larger and more reliable harvests, small-scale farmers can sell more to traders, offtakers, and consumers, thereby mutually benefitting actors across the agricultural value chain. iska forecasts also lessen the threat climate change poses to livelihoods and food security and can augment climate adaptation strategies to increase adoption of climate resilient farming practices. Finally, the increased income and financial security generated through larger yields and less wasted use of inputs can translate into greater purchasing power and investment into the local economy.  

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