Use weather information to improve food production

“Rain for Africa” (R4A) is a project to develop applications to provide advice to farmers as agricultural advisory services based on current weather information at their specific location. ARC-SCW, with its mandate for research at the intersection between agriculture and climate and through working closely with small-scale farmers, realised the need for improved advisory services. The R4A project aims to integrate various data sources into a best available historic and current climate dataset with easy accessibility, while adding value for agricultural and other clients at an affordable price. It will thereby contribute towards empowering farmers to improve their quantity and quality of food production, by providing weather forecasts and agricultural advice about their farming systems.

During 2017, the ARC-SCW team interacted with many small-scale farmers and extension staff in six provinces (Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West) to assess their day-to-day farming needs and current use of cell phones in their operational farming decisions. They were all enthusiastic about a weather forecast for their own specific village and requested more information about a range of farming practices including livestock and cropping enterprises. There is also a high demand for additional education of small-scale farmers and extension staff on the effective routine use of weather and climate information on the farm.

A software application (“App”), operating on a cell phone, was therefore developed to assist farmers with determining a planting date for maize. It uses the sum of the rainfall received in the past 10 days together with the amount of rain forecast for the upcoming 10 days. The planting information can be accessed either via a smart phone or for a simple phone, via registration to a USSD service with their own specific location. The smart phone App is directed to the extension services so that they can assist by registering a number of small-scale farmers and thus help to optimise production, in line with the current season’s weather conditions. The messages are available in eight languages, namely English, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Tshivenda and Xitsonga.

Another App, also based on weather forecast information, helps farmers to decide whether to go ahead with a spraying programme or to wait for better conditions. It provides a recommendation about suitable conditions for spraying either herbicides or pesticides each day, divided into three time periods and given for the next 3-days.
By joining forces and pooling expertise, a digital-delta platform “HydroNET” is used to integrate and channel the weather data and other information into useful applications. The computer-based platform includes development of a toolbox of services for other SADC meteorological services. These Apps and toolboxes are available via a web-based platform and can be customized for individual purposes and then integrated into one’s own webpages. More information about HydroNET: www.hydronet.co.za.

The R4A project is managed by Prof Sue Walker and the team includes experts from ARC, South African Weather Service (SAWS), HydroLogic and other private sector partners from the Netherlands. It is funded by the Netherlands Space Office via the Geodata for Agriculture and Water (G4AW) programme.

The use of such Apps that provide helpful hands-on information at grassroots level to farmers and extension staff, will facilitate higher crop yields and more efficient selection and use of inputs such as seed, water, pesticides and fertilizer.

For more information:
Prof. Sue Walker
Specialist Researcher / Project Leader
E-mail: walkers@arc.agric.za
Tel: 012 3102577