The majority of farmers in Sub Saharan Africa practice rain-fed argiclture. They do not use irrigation so are at the mercy of the rains. PlantVillage farmers in Busia County, Kenya experienced significant hardship at the start of the long rains in 2019 (March). The twin cyclones of Idai and Kenneth which hit Mozambique (March 14th and April 25th) removed moisture from the atmosphere above Kenya and Uganda reducing the volume of rain that fell. Increased numbers of cyclones is a consequence due to higher sea surface temperatures. These cyclones bring immediate devestation to farms in their path. Or when they affect rainfall patterns as happened in 2019. Cyclones are also playing a major role in the current locust upsurge.
In 2019 many of the farmers planting maize simply had no germination of the seed and had to re-sow seeds. For extremely poor farmers this was a considerable hardship. In some cases the second seeds sown had failed.
Some farmers who had an earlier start so had some growth of maize saw their crop stop growing. You can Roseline Akoichi, one of our lead farmers discuss this in the video.
What was very clear was that farmers needed hyperlocal advice to enable climate change adaptation. PlantVillage therefore partnered with Mediae Company who produce a very popular TV show for farmers, Shamba Shape Up, to deliver climate change advice. And with their offshoot company, iShamba to send messages out via SMS. This work was enabled by PlantVillage's excellent and ongoing collaboration with Mercy Corps AgriFin.
Shamba Shape Up is East Africa’s leading agricultural TV program. The program is a reality make-over show filmed on smallholder farms addressing the problems of the farmers to increase production and encouraging farming as a business in Kenya and Tanzania. It’s broadcast on national TV stations in Kenya and Tanzania and on DSTV and a number of free to air digital channels reaching over 12 million viewers each week in both countries in English and Swahili over half the year.
PlantVillage used data from CHIRPS and the Climate Hazard Center to create maps together with the Kenya Meteorological Service that could be shown each week. Here is one of the videos that are going out
What is also nice is that Shamha Shape Up have a hotline farmers can join for weekly alerts or to request more information. This is iShamba which we discuss next
The iShamba hotline has roughly 350,000 users across Kenya. PlantVillage signed a Memorandum of Understanding with iShamba to work with this database. Dr. Fei Jiang, the lead GIS expert on our team, grouped the users via geo-location. It is not possible to get a GPS link from a feature phone but when farmers sign up iShamba asks them their nearest primary school and what sub-ward. This enables us to get within a few kilometers.
Using the CHIRPS data set and detailed discussions with Dr. Chris Funk of the Climate Hazards Group we were able to use the historical and forecasted precipitation data at the spatial resolution of 5km to deliver three key numbers to each farmer.
We sent files with the data back and for the last two weeks (time of writing Dec 9th 2020) we have sent highly specific values on precipitation to 350,000 farmers
We are working with iShamba to also collect the timing of planting and the type of crop planted. With this, we can be very specific and provide advice on how much water the crop needs at any point in the cycle. We will combine this with a risk prediction on pests for that crop and information on the soil conditions. We are developing advanced approaches in machine learning which we will detail on a separate page soon.
We also are following up with telephone calls to ask farmers what they think. The early feedback is excellent. Here is an example reply
I was able to plan my short Rain season, when to plant and spray
But for now, it is clear hyper-local data is possible for the smallholder farmer at scale. And it is cheap! Sending 350,000 messages a week costs just $1,800. Any donors out there who want to help us please write dhughes@psu. You can also pay for SMS through our campaign.