A high-tech social enterprise by the name of ‘Ignitia’, has joined the Business Call to Action (BctA), with a commitment to deliver reliable, targeted, affordable tropical weather forecasts in the form of SMS messages to 1.2 million small-scale farms in West Africa by the end of 2017. The purpose of BCtA is to encourage companies to aid in the fight against poverty through the use of inclusive business models and is supported by the UN’s development programme and other international organisations.
This project was set up as small-scale farmers in the tropics have extremely limited access to reliable weather forecasts, which can cause serious constraints on their ability to plan appropriate farming activities. In order to counteract this issue, Ignitia have developed a forecasting model which creates reliable, GPS-specific weather forecasts. Two-day, monthly and seasonal forecasts are delivered to customers via text message. Initially launched in Ghana in 2014, this has proven to have an accuracy level of 84% in contrast to those found on the BBC or CNN, which only achieve a mere 39% accuracy within west Africa.
“With iska smallholder farmers receive the vital information they need to mitigate risk and create resilience. In doing so, farmers are able to increase yields and improve their livelihoods year after year,” stated Ignitia’s chief executive officer, Liisa Petrykowska. “We are pleased to have our inclusive business recognised by BCtA and look forward to working with the BCtA and our fellow members.”
A simple solution to increase farm incomes
Over 2.8 billion people (40% of the global population) live within the tropics, the majority of which derive their livelihoods from small-scale farming. In addition, the yields of these small-scale farmers based in sub-Saharan Africa are the lowest in the world, resulting in food insecurity, extended poverty and a stagnant growth in the economy. It is estimated that an astounding 20-80% of annual yields are lost due to weather. This is huge compared to the 15% of losses which result from diseases, pests and weeds. A study by Hellmuth et al, 2007, found that maize farmers in Mali could increase their incomes by up to 80% by using meteorological data alone.
Each forecast produced by iska, is tailor-made for a specific farmer’s location by an automated application which fetches the most common GPS coordinate for each subscriber. The farmers are then sent unique forecasts via SMS in a text-lite format, ensuring that even the most basic of phones can receive the message. The farmers are charged the equivalent of a mere $0.04 dollars per day for the service, or alternatively can pay in smaller instalments from pre-paid mobile credit. To put that into perspective, that typically equals less than 2% of the farmer’s total expenditure on inputs.
As changes in weather patterns and increased frequency and severity of harsh weather lead to fewer growing days, the more traditional farming methodologies are becoming less and less reliable by the minute. However, through utilising iska’s accurate short-mid and long-range forecasting messaging, farmers are equipped with a crucial climate change adaptation tool, with reaching over 80,000 farmers to date. Already having delivered over six million weather forecasts, the company behind the project hope to extend its service to a further 20 countries in Southeast Asia, Africa and Central America.