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Better Weather Forecasting in Western Africa

Better Weather Forecasting in Western Africa

Knowing when it will rain is crucial for farmers in Ghana — a new forecasting model has made it more predictable and helped maintain incomes.

The goal of Ignitia is simple — to provide farmers with better predictive tools to increase their crop yields.

Knowing when it will rain is crucial for farmers in Ghana, as only two percent of the farmland is irrigated and many make a living off the largely rain-fed tropical agriculture. With so many livelihoods depending on small and erratic windows for planting and harvesting due to extensive flooding or rainfall and thunderstorms, a new forecasting model has made farming more predictable and helped farming families in Ghana and the wider region maintain incomes.

Photo of rural African couple using a cellphone
Photo by Ignitia

The new weather forecasting model, supported through a unique USAID partnership and developed by Sweden-based Ignitia, provides timely, targeted and accurate forecasts for farmers through SMS (text) messages. With the ability to pinpoint this data down to the square mile, West African farmers now know when it is safe to plant, fertilize, and protect their crops from the rain when a storm is approaching.

“While a standard forecast might cover 25 square kilometers, our technology can zero in on a three squared kilometer area,” said Lizzie Merrill, Ignitia’s chief operating officer. “Standard forecasting might show fair weather across the region, but yet there could be a micro-storm on a farmer’s specific crop location.”

Photo of young woman with cellphone in a field
Photo by Ignitia

Ignitia found that many farmers receiving the targeted forecasts improved their average crop yield by about 60 percent. With a larger and more reliable yield, many who were living below the international poverty line were able to cross that divide and start earning over $2 a day.

“Using the forecasts more than doubled my yield last year,” said Enoch Addo, one of the farmers that has benefitted from the service, according to iAfrikan.

In 2018, 83 percent of 54 surveyed farmers said they share the messages with their communities. Currently, over 800,000 users have subscribed to receive the SMS localized forecasts, benefitting as many as 4.5 million indirect users in Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal.

Though smartphone usage is expanding in West Africa, Pew Research found that the majority of cell phone usage is still through SMS-based phones.

“Of course, anyone can get the weather for free from the internet if they have a smartphone, but it will not be based on our more precise models, and global forecasts are actually more wrong than they are right,” Merrill said.“The physics that drives the weather is quite different in the tropics than in other parts of the world.”

For instance, in Ghana, the weather is caused mostly by convection, a circular motion that happens when warmer air or liquid rises, while cooler air or liquid drops down, causing smaller-scale storms. While non-tropical areas are often driven by large-scale temperature differences in high- and low-pressure areas; the weather simply does not develop as fast.

Given neighboring regions rely on tropical agriculture and experience similar weather conditions, the company is looking at expanding to the rest of West Africa as well as other countries located near the equator to empower more farmers with this innovation.

Ignitia was supported by the global Securing Water for Food program, a partnership between the U.S. Agency for International Development and the governments of South Africa, the Netherlands, and Sweden. The partnership invested $35 million in Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to promote science and technology solutions such as Ignitia that enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing and distribution.

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