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Developing weather information services for smallholder farmers

Access to accurate, localised weather information is crucial for farmers to make well-informed farm management decisions, like - timing irrigation fertiliser application and harvesting. It also allows farmers to effectively manage and mitigate risks. However, providing services for smallholders using open weather data in developing countries has proved to be challenging. On 21 and 22 November 2017, GODAN Action, Wageningen University & Research, the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and CTA. organized two workshops in The Hague on how to create impact on smallholder farming with open weather data. Practitioners, policy-makers and academics explored the practical and strategic challenges they face to work with open weather data and how to address these. The discussions and case studies gave a good insight into topics such as entrepreneurial incentives for intermediaries to develop localised services with weather data, the importance of farmer communities’ involvement, and the role of governmental support for open data infrastructure. Take for example KALRO, a platform that provides context specific advisories based on weather/climate information and corresponding agronomic advisory services to 10,000 farmers. The KALRO online platform gets information provided by the Kenya Meteorology Department. That information is placed, processed and made available for farmers and policy makers in two counties. In addition, the information is sent to farmers through other channels such as SMS and Interactive Voice Recording system. The strategy is to scale the service to all the 47 counties in Kenya. Revenues comes from subscription fees, payment of premiums and advertising fees from agricultural business service providers. Challenges Boniface Akuku from KALRO shared his experiences and explored with workshop participants some of capacity gaps, potential business models, and the role of partnerships and standards. Akuku explained that there were a number of skills gaps that impeded progress. The Meteorology Department requires better skills on how to overlay weather data on dynamic maps to calculate the probabilities per area. ICT companies on the other hand need skills on data science and artificial intelligence to be able to extract more insights from data as well as to develop algorithms that are relevant to the information service delivery. And extension workers require skills to interpret the information accurately for onward dissemination. Wider structural and cultural challenges must also be addressed. For example, KALRO struggles to generate revenue from farmers as the majority of smallholder farmers are conservative and have not understood the concept of paying for weather data or weather information services. The conclusion after two days of knowledge exchange was that it is essential to look at the whole open weather data value chain, from actors involved in collecting, analysing, disseminating the data, in order to increase availability of quality data for farmers, but also ensure that farmers are able to understand and use the data.

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