Guest blog: Amy Barthorpe of WeFarm

GUEST BLOG: By Amy Barthorpe, Head of Business Development at WeFarm

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IEA Data Scientist Ben Lloyd-Hughes took part in a high profile panel at UR2016 [May 19, 2016], a forum of experts and practitioners in disaster risk identification.

This year’s theme was ‘Building Evidence for Action’ and Ben was on a panel put together by USAid titled ‘When uncertainty is certain: tools for improved decision making for weather and climate’.

The IEA has been collaborating with social enterprise WeFarm, with Ben gathering data to show that farmers in developing countries are using WeFarm’s text messaging platform to seek basic advice on climate to improve their crops and produce. The evidence he has gathered will support WeFarm in extending the service.

Amy Barthorpe, Head of Business Development at WeFarm, was alongside Ben on the UR2016 panel. Read her latest blog:

Global warming is rearing its ugly head – and it’s making an impact. There’s one thing for sure… uncertainty around climate has become certain.

Temperatures are rising and increasingly we are witnessing unpredictable rains, droughts, and dramatic changes in climate.

Across Europe, USA and UK we regularly hear about uncertainty and the risks of climate change, but this is not the case for the world’s 500 million smallholder farmers who cannot access information easily. Smallholder farmers often live in remote parts of the world, miles from the nearest village, without internet access.

Despite our predictions that these farmers are likely to be impacted most by climate change, they are not receiving vital climate information that could help them reduce risk. It’s not because we lack information: our ability to collect climate data is highly advanced and there is a complex network of climate services production and data available.

Corporate businesses, NGOs and governments are using this information to reduce risk and improve forecasting but it is not currently benefiting the most vulnerable. We should all be asking the question: why?

Climate information for farmers

Climate information can help farmers reduce risk but you might be wondering why it is necessary now, and how it can help.

The need for climate information is stronger than ever: previously, smallholder farmers had less need for climate information because weather patterns were so predictable. Weather patterns have now become now erratic and climate change has become visible in the unpredictability of the data.

Kenya is a great example of a dramatic change in climate and farmers’ new need for information. In the past, farmers in Kenya could rely on their rainy season starting on the last week of February, or at the latest, the first week of March.

This year, it took until the last week of March for the rains to start – a whole month after they expected. This year farmers who followed their traditional planting patterns will have lost out. The seeds they used will not have blossomed into a good harvest.

If these same farmers had received detailed climate information predicting the late rains, they would have been able to adapt their planting schedule. Climate information in this way can dramatically improve supplier resilience and reduce risk for those working in agriculture.

Communicating climate information with clarity

There is no shortage of climatic information and data in the world. However, data is useless unless it can be accessed, understood and actioned.

Currently, climate information is not reaching the people who are most vulnerable. It is simply not accessible for farmers, both in terms of reach and understanding.

This is partly because a lot of climate information is available online. With 90% of smallholder farmers without internet access it is no wonder they cannot reach it. Also, most data is incomprehensible for farmers. Information such as ‘there is a 75% chance of 4mm of rain’ is useless, if farmers cannot take action. It needs to be translated into a format that farmers can understand and act on.

How do we ensure that climate information is communicated effectively, and with clarity? Well, with 90% of smallholder farmers now having access to a basic mobile phone, SMS is a great way of sharing information with farmers. If information was available across SMS, radio and internet, farmers could access it – no matter what.

Data from farmers to guide climate information

Smallholder farmers can also produce data and generate vital insights, as well as receive climate information. This is because farmers can provide organic data about how climate is affecting people on the ground.

A recent study conducted by Institute for Environmental Analytics (IEA) and WeFarm analysed data from farmer interactions on our network. The IEA’s study analysed more than 160,000 SMS messages exchanged by Kenyan farmers through WeFarm and their analysis found that water is the top concern around climate change for small-scale farmers, followed by temperature and storms.

With insights like these, the climate information communicated to smallholder farmers can be tailored to their needs, and the reality on the ground.

Another way we can gather data and insight from farmers is through monitoring how farmers respond to information. After disseminating certain climate information do farmers ask questions? Have farmers understood the information? Could additional information have been provided?

By analysing the way that farmers respond to climate information we can create a constant feedback loop and continually improve social impact.

A new model for climate information

With the vast amount of climate information available there is an urgent need for collaboration between different data-sets and technologies. In order to effectively reduce risk by providing farmers with climate information, I believe that a three step process is required:

1) Collection of organic data from farmers to understand needs, requirements and what’s happening on the ground

2) Analysis of data and integration of climate information with other data sets to build actionable information

3) Based on data analysis and research, dissemination of actionable climate information across different formats, e.g. radio, SMS and internet

With this model for climate information we can ensure that farmers everywhere can access vital information that is easy to understand and is aligned to their needs on the ground. To reduce risk worldwide, we need to empower farmers – and climate information can do that.

data analytics visualization developing countries
data analytics visualization developing countries