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Empowering smallholder farmers to improve food security and economic growth through multi-node weather stations and mobile phone technology.

Photo of Coenie Louw
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This idea is a service that will be made available to smallholder farmers. 

It tackles the well-known problem of a lack of reliable, accurate weather  information available to smallholder farmers who do not have access to the internet. It is also designed to assist with climate change adaptation and mitigation. 

It addresses the problem through a network of mini weather stations and mobile phone technology that allows for smallholder farmers to get instantaneous weather updates and sustainable agriculture information through basic mobile phones and to also submit data to the system on prevailing weather conditions in their areas to improve the system's accuracy and reliability.

Through improved food security, economic growth and climate change adaptation and mitigation it intersects planet, peace and prosperity.

Despite recent rains, Southern Africa is still caught up in a severe drought, threatening the livelihood of small holder farmers and food security of millions of people, especially in rural areas where there is no access to the internet.

The dependency of the economy on climate means that accurate weather forecasts and climate change monitoring are in high demand. Agriculture contributes 32.3% of GDP in low income countries and 16.7% in lower middle income countries. In Sub-Saharan Africa rain fed agriculture accounts for 97% of total agricultural land and 91% of total agricultural production.

Sub-Saharan Africa needs 13,000 weather stations. In reality there are only an estimated 500 that are functioning and reporting. Weather monitoring and forecasting tools are key for economic growth and food security. However, people in rural areas rely on meteorological agencies with low capacity and obsolete technologies. The need for accurate weather advisory is made greater by climate change due to its Environmental and Humanitarian Impact: Due to more frequent droughts/floods – e.g. the Malawi floods wiped out 90000 hectares resulting in 2.8 million people (17% of the population) requiring food assistance. Also to consider is the Economic Impact: Prices for staple crops will rise – rice, wheat, maize (most reactive to increasing CO2) resulting that in Africa food prices may increase by up to 12% (2030).

  • Most emerging markets lack the ground level data required to create localised forecasts:
  • Current weather forecasts are created by super computers using data provided by satellites - which are out of reach to most smallholder farmers.
  • Weather stations are required for calibration and to create localised forecasts.

 Around the world, there are ~66,000 stations but most developing world countries lack the necessary weather station infrastructure. 

Achieving SDG 1 - an end to poverty - will require large scale investment in small holder farmers and supplying them with accurate, reliable information. Ending poverty, ensuring food security and improving economic growth will contribute to achieving peace and prosperity for populations globally.

Explain your idea

Smallholder farmers need: 1. Localised weather data collection and forecasts via mobile 2. Weather adaptive, climate smart advice via mobile 3. Digitisation of weather 4. Reliable information on sustainable agriculture. Currently all mini weather stations are single node stations that require internet connection, are expensive, has limited sensing capability and operate as single stations and not part of a network of stations. A need has arisen for the development of an integrated weather station that operates autonomously on solar power and that can send live periodic updates via a cell phone network to a central database. The data can then be extrapolated and processed, to build weather models and track the change in climate. The information can also be made available to farmers for instantaneous weather predictions, and contribute to short and long-term climate change mitigation and adaptation. A typical weather station (single-node) would consist of a solar panel, a robust weather proof container for the electronics, cell phone modem and various sensors to measure for instance: • Temperature • Barometric Pressure • Humidity • Wind speed and direction • Rain fall • Soil moisture • UV and cloud cover Collecting data and communication with farmers are done via USSD technology. Unstructured Supplementary Service Data is a simple, inexpensive, real time, menu driven technology that works on all kinds of mobile phones and does not require internet. To validate data collected from sensors, data is also collected from farmers. To ensure data is localised, both mini weather stations and farmers are provided with a 3-word address using what3word technology. What3Words is a global location system using a grid of 3x3m squares that have been pre-assigned a 3-word address linked to its exact GPS location.

Who Benefits?

Short term beneficiaries: Smallholder farmers from more accurate and reliable weather information will improve their agriculture and immediate economic circumstances. Medium Term: Populations will benefit from improved food security and nutrition status, as well as economic growth in their regions. Long term: Government from economic growth, food security and weather/climate data - recommendations can be included in national climate change strategies.

How is your idea unique?

The use of cell phone networks to transport the data to a central database, where data from multiple weather stations in a region can be used to generate real time weather information sets this model apart from other single-node weather stations which rely on internet. Because the weather station uses a cell phone modem, bi-directional communication via SMS or TCP IP would be possible to and from the weather station. For instance, querying the status, or changing a setting on the weather station remotely. The more nodes/weather stations there are in a region on the network, the more accurate the prediction modelling and monitoring will become.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Tell us more about you

Gateway Health Institute is a South African NGO that was established in 2014, focusing on health, human rights and nutrition & food security. We aim to have a positive impact on the health and rights of hard to reach and vulnerable populations through advocacy, community empowerment projects, knowledge management, research and innovative technology. The project is currently in prototype phase. The system has been designed, mobile phone technology is being coded and 15 mini weather stations will be built for testing in 2 districts in South Africa and 1 district in Zimbabwe. The pilot testing phase will last 1 year and will start in July 2017. At the end of the first year we will have a system that can send accurate weather predictions and sustainable agriculture information to smallholder farmers. Smallholder farmers unions were engaged to enable us to scale the project after the pilot phase. After 3 years we hope to see a system that will enable us to share climate adaptation and mitigation recommendations with governments, UN agencies and other climate change stakeholders. Our implementation Partners are: 1. Hivos Southern Africa, who will assist with all phases of the project in Zimbabwe. 2. Digitata Ltd., a private sector ICT company who is assisting with the coding of the mobile phone technology on an in-kind CSI basis. Digitata is also responsible for database development, data management and protection. Open Data Durban is a non-profit civic technology lab that implements and advocates for open data, open government, and civic technology. Open Data Durban is a partner organization whose role will is data analysis to assist with refining the accuracy and reliability of the weather prediction and climate change models with the help of weather experts.

Expertise in sector

  • 3-5 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Coenie!

Thank you for sharing the project. I can see how it potentially bridges peace, planet and prosperity.

Would you include a summary at the top of the full description of your idea post e.g.?

'This idea is a_________________ [campaign/app/service/program/online platform/toolkit/social enterprise/etc.].

It tackles the problem of _____________[short problem statement].

It addresses the problem by :__________[what your idea looks like in practice]. It intersects XYZ topics (peace, prosperity, or planet).’

How far along is the prototype? What are the roll out plans for the project i.e. where do you expect to see the project in 1,2 or 3 years time?

Is this the website for your organisation - Is it correct that the company was established in 2014? What are the websites for the other organisations mentioned?