Blog: From Rain4Africa project to AgriCloud service

AgriCloud Application farmers mobile Rain4Africa

The 1st of June 2015 the Rain4Africa dream started: 8 partners were targeted to reach more than 125.000 small scale South African farmers with the best available weather and climate services, to increase their food production and reduce weather and climate related risks.

About the project and the author:
The Rain4Africa project was funded by the Netherlands Space Office as part of the Geodata for Agriculture and Waterprogramme and was coordinated by project leader Sue Walker (Agricultural Research Council). Fiona van der Burgt (Weather Impact) was involved in this project as focus group leader Mobile apps, with the responsibility to develop the mobile services of AgriCloud.

After 4 years of project, this dream has now become reality. Rain4Africa has resulted in an operational service called “AgriCloud”. AgriCloud is an online weather based agricultural advisory system that supports farmers and agribusinesses in their day-to-day work to make weather-optimized decisions. Via workshops it has reached over 300.000 farmers in the past years and has an even larger scaling potential.

Small scale South African farmers often do not know when to plant or when the rains are expected at their farm. Because they are very much dependent on local rainfall patterns, there is a huge demand for solutions that address operational decision support, using real-time and forecast weather information. AgriCloud was developed to bridge this gap in information need and -availability. It uses the best available weather, climate and agricultural data and knowledge and translates this into real-time farm advisories. For example, it takes the past and forecast rainfall data, combines this with crop requirements and generates a real-time, localized advisory to start planting maize.

Three different channels

The AgriCloud platform provides its information to the outside world via three different channels:
1. A mobile app that extension officers can use to register their farmers and provide them real-time advisories exactly for their farm location. People who do not have a smartphone, can make use of a USSD service.
2. Online dashboards for agribusinesses, to monitor the progress and business risks of the current season.
3. Application services (API) to connect this information to other platforms and stakeholders.

Mobile phones are indispensable to reach farmers with timely and localized information. More than 90% of South African farmers have access to a phone and -in contrast to radio or television broadcasting- it allows to send localized information to a farmer, precisely for his or her location.

In the AgriCloud mobile app, the advisories are available in eleven local languages; namely English, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Siswati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, isiNdebele, and Afrikaans. This translation was not a trivial task; Android systems do provide automatic translations, but not for these indigenous African languages! The Rain4Africa team therefor had to bypass Google and it developed a fully automated Python script, that turned manual translations of a team of ca. 20 translators into dictionaries that could feed into the app.

A strong partnership

The AgriCloud service will continue operations in South Africa after lifetime of the Rain4Africa project. A strong partnership of public and private partners forms the basis of this service. Among these partners are the South African Weather Services, provider of the best available climate and weather data of South Africa, the Agricultural Research Council, provider of agronomic knowledge, HydroNET, a Dutch platform owned by HydroLogic, and Weather Impact, developer of mobile agri-weather applications.

AgriCloud mobile app is available for free in the Google Play Store. In this way even small-scale farmers have access to this information for free. The data (API) and platform services are paid services which sustain the support to small scale farmers. Are you interested to learn more about the AgriCloud platform service, or would you like to connect to our API? Please reach out to us.