The weather is an important factor in the success of any farming enterprise. A good farmer should always plan for possible change; “cursing the weather”, as the saying goes, “is never good farming”. In much of Africa, however, getting accurate information about the weather, in order to make decisions about activities, such as sowing, irrigation and harvesting, has always been difficult. Climate change, which has brought rapidly changing and often more extreme weather, has exacerbated the problem.
Now though, African farmers can benefit from an imaginative scheme, involving the innovative use of technology to provide access to the best available forecasting and planning advice, helping them to beat the weather and use scarce water resources effectively.
The scheme – “Smart ICT for Weather and Water Information and Advice to Smallholders in Africa” – is being supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, a specialist UN agency dedicated to eradicating rural poverty in developing countries. It aims to give smallholders in Africa the means to make informed decisions about the management of their land and improve productivity.
Small farmers, advisers, water user associations and irrigation boards in selected areas in four African countries (Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan and Mali) have been provided with free online access to regularly updated, customised information, allowing them not only to plan, on the scale of individual fields, what to plant and how to irrigate but also to know when the conditions are right for maximum success.
Rather than giving farmers general statements about crop growth, the service uses tools, including satellites and remote sensors, to estimate changes in the vegetation index and evaporation rates, providing an effective irrigation planner. Up-to-date crop- and field-specific information for irrigated agriculture is made available in local languages, on dedicated web platforms and via SMS messages, to farmers in the pilot areas in Arata Chufa (Ethiopia), Nubaria (Egypt) and the Gash Delta (Sudan). Detailed flood information, hydrological modelling and water usage data are also available to users in Sudan, where spate agriculture is practised.
The improved use of information contributes to “more crop per drop”, producing bigger crop yields, whilst reducing water consumption. Combined with better water management techniques, it should help farmers to become more resilient to external shocks, so they can produce more food for less water.