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Weather Data: a vital component to the agriculture value chain

Chipo Msengezi and Dorah Nesoba

All agricultural stakeholders have an interest in accurate, localised and reliable meteorological data. Having access to such data means that organisations and entrepreneurs can translate raw weather data into accessible weather information, which is crucial for farmers to make well-informed farm management decisions and for effective risk mitigation.

Weather data and services have a high potential to enhance support for smallholder farmers in taking operational decisions on farm management. Plant growth is driven by weather variables and therefore agricultural production is directly dependent on weather conditions. Many agricultural activities (e.g. sowing, harvesting, and fertiliser application) are dependent on weather conditions for planning and effectiveness. Given this, all agricultural stakeholders are interested in some form of meteorological data.

Access to open data and particularly weather-related data was identified as a key factor in transforming agriculture and nutrition by the G8 in 2013. Open data is simply defined as data that can be used, re-used, shared and built-on by anyone, anywhere, for any purpose. By making meteorological data available as open data it not only becomes easier to share, but also allows the development of specialised information services by infomediaries targeting specific user needs and the prediction of suitable conditions for farm activities.

Climate change presents major risks for long-term food security and low and middle-income countries may suffer the greatest share of damage in the form of declining yields and greater frequency of extreme weather events. The 2017 FAO publication “The future of food and agriculture: Trends and challenges” estimates an aggregate negative impact of climate change on African agricultural output up to 2080-2100 to be between 15% and 30%. The necessary production increases need to come primarily from increases in yields and cropping intensity, however, the current trend is not sufficient to meet food needs.

Access to weather data

The challenge is therefore for technology to address this problem. Data has risen high on the food security policy agenda. The last decade has seen an exponential increase in the volume and types of data as the benefits for agriculture are potentially huge. Releasing the enormous stock of data will encourage cooperation and collaboration to solve long-standing and evolving problems, benefit farmers, provide informed based decision for businesses and policymakers and will improve the health of consumers. In many areas of the world, agriculture is already a data-driven business, with precision farming making extensive use of GPS, weather, and satellite data, alongside soil information and crop production statistics.

In an effort to address the global agriculture challenges with open data, the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) Action project focused on accessible weather data in 2017. The partners collaborated on several events, to identify ways to better provide value-added services for smallholders using open weather data in developing countries. 

Investing in infomediaries

During the Africa Hydromet Forum, in Addis Ababa, 12-15 September 2017, , the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA) partnered with Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) as part of the GODAN Action project hosted a side event titled “Leveraging Weather Data for Agriculture and Nutrition Challenges in Africa” on 12 September 2017. The panel session determined that by making meteorological information available as open data, it not only becomes easier to share, but also allows the development of specialised information services by infomediaries targeting specific user needs measures and the prediction of suitable conditions for farm activities. It concluded that the weather and meteorological service community needs to act quickly to provide weather data and open data in order to meet the goals of 2030 UN Agenda for sustainable development and in particular food security. 

The Hydromet forum closed with a firm commitment from AMCOMET member-states to promote national and regional ownership for the modernisation of national meteorological and hydrological services for delivery of more accurate, timely and reliable weather, water and climate services to accelerate socio-economic development.

Creating impact for smallholders with weather data 

Another major event in 2017 was organised on 21 and 22 November 2017 by CTA with partners Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality in The Netherlands, GODAN Action, and Wageningen University & Research, who together hosted two workshops titled “Using weather data to support smallholder agriculture in Africa” and “Creating impact for smallholders with weather data”. 

The purpose of the workshops was to share experiences and learning from existing initiatives that focus on providing added value services for smallholders using (open) weather data. It focused on ways to achieve impact for smallholders and the role of standards and capacity building. The workshops brought together actors from different networks to discuss good practices for the application of weather data and viable business models that all actors in the data value chain to co-create value added services in an international context that generate impact for smallholders. 

The findings from the two workshops indicated that it will require collaborative efforts and partnerships to develop viable business models for the producers of the data; entrepreneurial incentives for intermediaries to develop localised services from raw weather data; increased engagement with farmer communities; increased use of open data standards for increased data interoperability and the addressing of major capacity gaps in the open weather data value chain. 

Data value chain

This issue of ICT Update portrays how various stakeholders in the data value chain are working with and creating agriculture services from weather data while showcasing some of the best practices and the most common challenges in this field. 

Related links

RCMRD’s open data portal
http://opendata.rcmrd.org/ 
GODAN Action webpage
http://www.godan.info/godan-action 

other articles in this issue

Copyright © 2016, CTA. Technical Centre for Rural and Agricultural Cooperation

CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.