Revolutionary tropical weather forecasting for small-scale farmers

2018 Finalist

Ignitia has developed a highly accurate weather model. The organisation sends out daily, monthly, and seasonal forecasts to help small-scale farmers in West Africa better predict water availability to manage their daily activities, optimise food production and improve yields.

What is the social and/or ecological challenge?

Global weather models do not accurately predict weather in the tropics. The lack of accurate forecasts is made worse by recent changes in weather patterns, compounded by climate change, which negatively impact traditional farming practices. The tropics are home to over a billion farmers, many of whom live on less than USD 2/day. Agriculture in this region is predominantly rain-fed, with little to no use of irrigation. This means that knowing when and how much it is going to rain is critical for farmers' survival. Ignitia addresses the pressing need for small-scale farmers to adapt to climate change. With access to high-quality weather forecasts, they can make the right decisions at the right time. It is about the timing of key activities such as planting, fertilising and harvesting with the weather. For example, farmers risk losing all of their crops if they plant without a weather forecast and there is no rain the following week. It has been shown in numerous studies that weather forecasts are crucial for farmers. Weather remains the largest source, directly and indirectly, of yield loss. Annually, 20%-80% of expected yield is lost due to weather. By comparison, losses due to pests, diseases and weeds only affect around 15% of farm output (Gommes et al, 2011). A Columbia University study with 3 000 West African farmers found that simply by using weather information, the farmers were able to boost their income by as much as 80% (Climate Risk Management in Africa, Hellmuth, 2007). This translates to roughly double the yields for farmers. Ignitia uses ICT to improve productivity and maximise efficiency in resource use. By providing the most advanced information to those who tend to have the least access to cutting-edge technology, Ignitia seeks to bridge the productivity and economic gap between emerging and developed economies and to give farmers the tools they need to better manage their water use.

The social entrepreneurial approach

Our beneficiaries are currently 100 000 small-scale farmers in West Africa, most of whom are subsistence farmers living on less than USD 2/day. With accurate weather information, they are able to make better on-the-ground decisions that impact their work. For example, Ignitia has had farmers purchase drought-resistant seeds when the seasonal outlook said conditions would be drier. While expensive, their purchase will ensure that their crops survive. When the daily forecast is for heavy rain, farmers delay using fertilisers or spraying pesticides so these are not washed away. Knowing about heavy rain ahead also helps reduce the harvest lost if crops need drying. These decisions improve yields and resilience and, ultimately, lead to higher profits and better livelihoods. Ignitia's participating farmers have reported doubled cocoa yields, and up to USD 3300 (USD 330/acre) in savings per annum on expensive inputs once these were optimised around rainfall. To reach these farmers, Ignitia has struck key partnerships with the mobile network operators (MNO) MTN in Ghana, Orange in Mali and Etisalat in Nigeria. (Moreover, Ignitia has signed a letter of intent with Orange for a strategic partnership to expand to six countries in West Africa). Through these partnerships, farmers can sign up using a short code (USSD) and pay just USD 0.02/day for GPS-specific weather information by SMS. Ignitia also partners with agricultural organisations (FAO, WFP, USAID, GIZ) to test and iterate its product with farmers who are more easily monitored, and to enter new markets. By interacting directly with farmers, Ignitia is able to continuously improve the information and tools so they are relevant to farmers in a given region and easy for them to access and understand.. Ignitia owes its success primarily to its forecasting accuracy. The organisation spent more than 15 man-years developing the core atmospheric model and the 84% accuracy level has been validated in an evaluation project for more than 30 locations in West Africa. In addition to delivering greater accuracy, Ignitia's solution is 97% automated and mainly relies on satellite data. This is important because "The under-investment in weather stations by national meteorological agencies in the vast majority of developing countries has resulted in a lack of reliable ground-level weather data" (GMSA, 2016). Built on remote-sensing techniques and automated modelling, Ignitia's product is significantly cheaper to make and for farmers to use. By keeping costs low and sign-up simple, and using an SMS platform to deliver the product to any mobile phone (there are currently more mobile phones than people in West Africa), Ignitia can scale its business quickly. The more farmers Ignitia can reach, the greater its social impact and success.

Goals and expected impact

By the end of 2019, Ignitia aims to reach 1.2 million farmers in seven countries in West Africa. The organisation will scale up its operations in Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Nigeria and launch operations in Ivory Coast and Niger. Its main goal is to create and provide weather forecasts that farmers find useful in helping them improve their farming practices. Ignitia has conducted its own M&E on thousands of participating farmers and found that 96% understood the content of the messages, 94% thought the messages were useful, and 95% found that the forecasts helped them increase their yield. Moving forward, Ignitia hopes to further boost these ratings, where possible, and launch an RCT study to measure the impact. With nearly all who use its forecasts benefitting, and households averaging 5.4 people in West Africa, Ignitia can improve water management practices – and with these, the livelihoods of 6.48 million people across the region.

Submitted by: 
Ignitia
Project period: 
Since 2010
Project legal form: 
Private company
Region: 
Ghana
Last update: 
2017
Award year: 
2018

Ignitia
25 Bersundsgatan
11737 Stockholm
Sweden

Mrs Cindy Laird, Operations Manager
cindy.laird@ignitia.se