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.
The two workshops were part of GODAN Action (Global Open Data for Agriculture & Nutrition), a three-year project funded by DFID that seeks to enable data users, producers and intermediaries to engage effectively and practically with open data in a developing context, and maximise the potential for impact by building the capacity of stakeholders. Open and accessible climate and weather data was chosen as GODAN Action’s first thematic topic to become a catalyst for business development and capacity development with the aim to put research into practice and achieve impact.
An important outcome of the workshops is the acknowledgement that providing weather data based support to farmers goes beyond being familiar and being able to work with weather data. It requires a broader view on standards, entrepreneurship, partnerships and ways to combine all kinds of data. The two workshops enabled a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges of open weather data for smallholder farmers and gave stakeholders knowledge and insights to establish improvements in the open weather data value chain.
During the two workshops, many challenges for the further development of open weather data and its infrastructure were mentioned by the participants. For example, one challenge is to ensure that data remains accessible and services that are built around open weather data are affordable for end-users, like smallholder farmers and farmer organisations. However, weather data is often regarded as a strategical and commercial asset, as data means control and meteorological departments are under pressure to earn money themselves.
Even with complete freedom to innovate with open weather data, people will face limitations because of bureaucracy and regulations. For example, who regulates the introduction of innovative weather services? Other constraints to make weather data more accessible to farmers, farmer unions and extension workers is that the context is rather technical. It requires significant knowledge and capacity to collect and analyse the data. High investments in capacity development are needed to add value to translate data into timely, localised, readable and useable information. In the development context, though, capacity and skills are still lacking behind.
Value chain approach
The participants agree during the workshops that the open weather data value chain, which includes data providers, intermediaries that translate weather data into services, and the consumers, must be demand-driven and as short as possible to reduce costs and make services cheaper. A farmer centred approach is necessary to create impact with open data as there is no one-way direction of providing weather services to farmers, as service providers should integrate into their products local structures, local languages and indigenous knowledge. Rural communities can also play a vital role in weather data collection and maintaining remote weather stations with citizen observatories. Hence, co-creation in the value chain could increase much needed levels of trust with local stakeholders.
Four areas of interest were identified on which open weather data can have immediate impact for farmer services: weather forecasting, weather alerts, index-based insurances and improved farming monitoring tools. Enablers for impact for these areas of interest that were mentioned during the workshops are capacity building (tailor-made for all stakeholders in the value chain), financing (of resources and aggregation as costs come down with larger farmer groups), infrastructure (as more weather stations need to be equipped, maintained, and more technical support is needed for data collection and analysing), communication channels (to connect supply with demand), and policy (as governments can increase incentives for investment and collaboration).
Fortunately, there are several opportunities for the further development of open weather data to achieve impact. Better satellite data and data from drones help to improve weather data collection. Also, integration of weather data with geo-data becomes easier through ICT solutions. It was also mentioned that there are increasingly better entrepreneurial opportunities in Africa, like support for business innovation that increases creativity. Young entrepreneurs are more likely to work in agriculture by making use of ICTs. Finally, pilots with crowdsourcing show the opportunity of citizen science, although there are still challenges to check data quality and how this implicates with standards.
The key issue for sustainability are solid business models, beyond project funding and subsidies. It is not an option to provide localised services for free and expecting them to continue in the long term. When funding stops, projects stop and in-worked teams break-up. It is the bundling, packaging and selling that is the way forward to create business models; less focus on stand-alone weather information services. Another solution could be for farmers to pay just a small subscription fee after they can choose between a premium and freemium service, where premium is paid for highly specialised services. Adding advertisements to services is what some entrepreneurs do as well.
Partnership and collaboration
Co-creation in the open weather data value chain requires collaboration with many stakeholders. In such way they create trade-offs between initiatives and stakeholders on which competition can be channelled. Governments should drive this process to create the best environment in which multi-stakeholder partnerships can thrive. Currently, government actors are not moving quickly enough to do this. Therefore, it is key to motivate private sector and farmer organisations and cooperation to become the main drivers that work together with national meteorological services. This is only possible with a clear business case or if new markets can be reached. To become attractive for business it is important to focus on: reliability, affordability, branding and marketing.
More is needed to guarantee verifiable, quality weather data. That is why the introduction of standards is important: it creates reliable markets, quality checks for data and guidance to improve specific tasks and skills. It seems for now that for observational data, one of the issues is that different stations work with different standards and produce data that are not easily and straightforward to merge. It would be a step in the right direction if some collaborative work was done to improve on this. The GODAN Action map of standards and the work on weather data standards of ODI can be a first start.
One of the key results of the workshops is the start of a Community of Practice that will map partnerships and leverage existing networks with the aim to improve the open weather value chain and provide management advice to smallholders. It will share knowledge on the use of crowd-sourcing, citizen observatories, inclusive business models and cost-effective structures. The community will not be financially driven, but solution driven to motivate stakeholders to participate. The assurance was given to look for practical ways to make the value chain more demand-driven, for example with knowledge platforms where farmers and farmer organisations can engage and share with other stakeholders their issues with weather data, feed-back mechanisms and needs. Hackathons will be used to engage with young entrepreneurs to look for innovative solutions and make use of open weather data. Furthermore, participants promised to clarify and communicate better about the benefits of open weather data for agriculture.
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
by Leigh Dodds
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.Read More
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.Read More
by Tufa Dinku
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
In Zambia, the Meteorological Department opens its weather and climate data by providing informative weather products to end users. For example, it publishes the 10-day crop weather bulletin.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More