CIP Prize: the importance of climate information

By Dennis Odera, Africa Business Manager

Do you ever wonder where the food on your plate comes from? I may not be entirely sure but there is a high likelihood it comes from the farm of a small-scale farmer.

There are more than 500 million small-scale farmers who produce over 70% of the food consumed by the world. Despite the important role farmers play in ensuring that we all have a plate of food on our tables, a majority of them have little or no access to information. This makes them highly susceptible to the negative effects of climate change.

According to the World Bank, “the world needs to produce at least 50% more food to feed 9 billion people by 2050 but climate change threatens to cut crop yields by more than 25%.” If we are unable to find viable solutions to combat the undesirable effects of climate change, there is a high likelihood that in the near future, the world will be unable to feed its people.

The just concluded Climate Information Prize, a prize initiative funded by UK Aid in partnership with the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD), sought to fund entrepreneurs and innovators who were able to come up with new solutions that use climate information in some way to support vulnerable individuals, households and communities in Kenya.

Why is climate information an essential component of adapting to climate change?

A majority of farmers around the world practice rainfed agriculture i.e. farming practices that rely on rainfall for water. Traditionally in Kenya, the long rain season started on the last week of February or first week of March. This year, in most areas around the country, the first drops of rain fell on the last day of March. This was an entire month after most farmers had expected the rainy season to commence. Most of the farmers who prepared their lands early in anticipation of the long rains were left counting their losses.

One of the telltale signs of climate change is the change in weather patterns. The change in weather patterns makes it difficult for small scale farmers to know when to till, plant or harvest. The farmers need access to some sort of information that will help them know when to carry out certain activities on their farms.

Climate information is described as any information on temperature, rainfall, wind, soil moisture and humidity, whether obtained from local or scientific sources. If farmers in Kenya had been able to have early access to information on the rain patterns, they would have been in a better position to know when to start preparing the lands. They would have subsequently saved all the money they lost preparing their lands too early. Early access to climate information is indeed important in ensuring our farmers are able to adapt to climate change.

What opportunities do entrepreneurs and innovators have?

There are two main issues that currently exist when it comes to sharing climatic information with farmers. The first issue lies in access of climatic information. The three prevalent means of sharing climatic information at the moment are radio, television and internet. Unfortunately, a majority of the 500 million small scale farmers have little or no access to 2/3 of these platforms (television and internet). While many small scale farmers do have access to the radio, there is a likelihood that they may miss the climate bulletin because of one reason or the other.

The next issue Is understanding of the climatic information. Most farmers are unable to understand the climatic information shared with them. They either do not understand the language the climatic information is shared in or they simply do not understand the content of the information shared with them and therefore do not know how to react to that information.

How can meteorological data be used?  

Another major issue that has arisen when it comes to sharing climatic information is how the KMD or other agencies who provide this information are able to measure the impact their information is having on the day to day lives of small scale farmers. At the moment, flow of information is one-way i.e. from KMD to the small-scale farmers. There is little or no feedback going back to KMD that can help them tailor and/or better their information to ensure it has an impact on the lives and livelihoods of small-scale farmers. Many stakeholders feel that data, and not communication, is the major challenge that entrepreneurs and innovators ought to be solve.

What is WeFarm doing?

WeFarm is using its pioneering peer-to-peer platform to assist small-scale farmers combat the negative effects of climate change. Farmers on the WeFarm platform are able to ask any agricultural related question, including questions on climate change, via SMS and get responses directly on their phone within a couple of minutes. Farmers are, for example, able to ask what other farmers are doing to preserve their inputs while they wait for the rains to commence. They will receive actionable and localized innovative solutions which they can then use on their own farms.

When farmers are registering to WeFarm, they are asked to share their geographical location. This information helps in ensuring that when farmers request for weekly weather forecasts, they receive information that is pertinent and personalized to them. With this information, farmers will be able to better prepare on when to till their lands, what to grow and when to harvest.

WeFarm’s peer-to-peer platform also collects data from the millions of allows farmers  to have interactions on the system with the system. In the last year, over 7.5 million interactions have been made by the more than 51,000 farmers registered on WeFarm. This data is crucial and can be used by KMD and other stakeholders to assess the impact climate information is having on the ground. Based on these interactions, stakeholders would also be able to learn how different farmers respond to different climate information and they can use this information to perfect their climate reporting function.

WeFarm offers a holistic solution to small-scale farmers trying to fight back against the negative effects of climate change.  

On Wednesday 7th April, WeFarm won 2nd Prize at the CIP Wazo Prize in Kenya. Thank you to everyone who made the event such a great success!

Posted 8 April 2016 | Tagged with: , , , , ,