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Partnerships to increase open weather data’s impact

Africa Hydromet Forum: Improving climate and weather forecasting to build disaster resilience

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Climate warming affects the water cycle, which impacts negatively on agricultural production and derails the cyclical effects associated with weather predictions and agricultural seasonality. Making use of weather data could help farmers to mitigate to the circumstances and increase farm productivity. To succeed, pragmatic public-private multi-stakeholder partnerships are required.

Smallholder farmers rely on the rain for their production and at times get confused, because of climate change, by unreliable weather. It is therefore necessary to invoke the role that technology plays in localising agronomic weather through data collection instruments to interpret and tailor agricultural data for a well-designed farm-based management plan of choice crops. While digital thinking is good for efficiency, it has the draw-back in that collection of weather data results in a data glut that makes it necessary to think costs wrought by the implementation of processes that can utilise the data effectively.

The investment needed to provide such statistics and make it accessible for service providers, calls for pragmatic private public partnerships (also called PPPPs) that promote mutually beneficial interactions between internal and external partners, or operators who share knowledge, resources, and expertise to address weather and agricultural related investments. 

The Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) consistently promotes knowledge driven efforts that support evidence-based decision-making in agriculture, particularly to advice on what can promote food and nutrition security. By doing so it also enables and stimulates partnerships between various actors. With its focus on enabling effective use of open data to address food security and nutrition challenges, the GODAN Action network of data producers, users, and intermediaries which work through supportive partnership of collaborative capacity building of stakeholders, participated during the AMCOMET Africa Hydromet Forum 2017 with some of its African partners comprising of the Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD), the Programme for Agricultural Capacity Development in Africa (P4ACAD Africa), and the Center for Agricultural Networking and Information Sharing (CANIS) of the University of Nairobi to demonstrate how weather data can be used to drive food and nutrition data provision for decision-making through engagement and partnerships.

Learning internship

Take P4ACAD Africa, an organisation created to support data aligned work in tertiary colleges and universities in Africa, which presented the model of data acquisition through student led farmer owned Agriculture, Technology and Extension (aTex) Hubs through which new knowledge or information to smallholder farmers is delivered through students participating in a learning internship for experiential learning. In the process of farmer-student interactions, students using simple data collection devices, such as GPS or mobile phone with digital cameras capture critical data on the farming engagements. Students get their information/knowledge from researches, university/tertiary college faculty, and development actors or through contextualised knowledge platform developed with artificial intelligence capacity to anticipate commonly asked questions. The farmer cooperatives weigh the produce by farmers during collection at produce collection centres using digital scales. This generate data that forms the basis for paying the farmers once the cooperative has received payment for what it generated. 

ICT infrastructure, hosted within the aTex Hubs, needs to be an investment that farmers who come together as a cooperative can afford. The hub becomes the organisation through which data from satellites and sensor-based equipment such as drones to help them advise the farmers is acquired. Given the (lack of) resourcefulness among smallholder farmers, their governments at national and subnational levels, development partners, research organizations, universities and the private sector provide the necessary collaborative framework to ensure there is resource mobilisation from a multi-stakeholder base that ensures sustainability.

Building local and international partnerships on weather data and its impacts is urgently needed, as weather variability has consistently been left out of the agricultural value chain debate. More efforts will have to be made to address weather variability as the earth’s atmosphere warms up. It is the accuracy of such weather variability data that farmers have to follow so that they can know when to dam to irrigate their land rather than rely on the rain for their production, a matter that is critical for Africa – where farmers continue to rely on the rain (as irrigation methods are sparse). This will become a critical now more than ever before as rains are consistently becoming unreliable, yet agriculture must produce more food for a growing world population.

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Open data in the weather domain could address the information needs of agro-meteo farm advisory systems. However, is open data ‘fit-for-purpose’; does it match the needs of being reliable, relevant, timely and accessible? Some answers come from the CommonSense project targeting smallholder farmers in Ethiopia.

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Two innovative enterprises have integrated a weather service system within an agro advisory service for farmers in East Africa. The eProd handheld device collects the GPS locations and agronomic information such as soil type, seed variety and planting date. aWhere combines this information with their weather data so farmers can now be sent SMS weather forecasts, spray alerts, fertiliser advice and yield projections.

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Providing added value services for smallholders using open weather data in developing countries is challenging. Therefore, on 21 and 22 November 2017 practitioners, policy-makers and academics gathered in The Hague, the Netherlands, to explore in two workshops the practical and strategic challenges they face to work with open weather data and how to address them.

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Most of the business models for weather services to smallholder farmers in Kenya are financially too unsustainable to scale-up. To do so it requires capacity building and establishing quality management system geared toward validating the impact.

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Ensuring that data can be easily accessed, used and shared requires the use of data standards. If you are currently working on a data project you should take time to consider what standards might be available to you to help to achieve the goals of your project.

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Climate warming affects the water cycle, which impacts negatively on agricultural production and derails the cyclical effects associated with weather predictions and agricultural seasonality. Making use of weather data could help farmers to mitigate to the circumstances and increase farm productivity. To succeed, pragmatic public-private multi-stakeholder partnerships are required.

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Availability of and access to climate data and information products is critical to achieving climate resilient development. However, climate information is not widely used in Africa. Useful information is often not available or, if it does exist, is inaccessible to those that need it most. Efforts are being made to alleviate the problem of data availability and use.

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There is a lack of weather and climate observation stations in Africa, while food production, harvest predictions, and disaster mitigation would benefit from improved data-accessible observation. A new smart and sustainable weather and climate observation network now addresses the important challenge of monitoring the weather in the continent.

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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.

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The start-up enterprise Severe Weather Consult in Rwanda succeeded in receiving support to develop a business model and is now involved in a public private partnership that allows them to make use of weather data for an alert advisory service to farmers.

Smallholder farmers in the Pacific have no access to weather index-based insurances, while flooding is a real threat for them. Preliminary research in the region suggests that weather and agricultural data, and the exact locations of farmers is weak in the region.

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