NL-Food Security Alliance

April 2018. Weather Impact joins the NL-Food Security Alliance (NL-FSA); a community of mainly Dutch companies and institutions collaborating in creating tailor-made and sustainable solutions for the agri-water-food business. Food security is one of the biggest challenges for the coming years worldwide and is exacerbated by climate change.

The NL-FSA delivers products and services from various expertises and contributes to the development of a profitable and sustainable agribusiness in Africa and Asia. The alliance strives to achieve its goals and at the same time contribute to the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). The NL-FSA performs in a sustainable manner with respect for people, the environment and climate change. ”

For more information about the NL-FSA can be found on the website

Farmers in Burundi very satisfied with Weather Impact’s forecasts

Last month, Stefan Ligtenberg and Sippora Stellingwerf visited Burundi together with partners from the GAP4All project (Good Agricultural Practices for All). One of the goals of the visit was to evaluate farmers’ opinion on the first version of the AgriCoach app. The AgriCoach app helps farmers decide on what, how and when to plant. Weather Impact provides the weather forecasts in the AgriCoach app. The forecasts contain information on rainfall and temperature for up to 8 days ahead and are given in three languages: Kirundi, French and English.

Weather forecast in the AgriCoach app

We visited several farmer groups across the country and learned that the weather forecasts, especially of rainfall, are well received, understood, and widely used. Using the forecasts, farmers plan their agricultural activities and protect their crops when hazardous weather is forecast. Some farmers, who occasionally hire workers, indicated that the weather forecast directly saves them money: when it rains, no work is done, but the workers have to get paid nonetheless. Using the app, they decide which days are suitable for hiring workers. Other farmers mentioned that last year, when they did not receive the forecast, they planted their maize crops too early. After planting it remained dry for several weeks, destroying their crops. If they would have had the AgriCoach app, they would have postponed the planting activities.

Farmers use the weather forecast for planning their agricultural activities (photo: Frodo Jansen)

Within Gap4All, we do not only give out weather forecast data, the farmers also send us data back. For this project we have distributed manual rain meters to 66 farmer groups. The ‘chef du rain’ of the group measures the rainfall every day at 7 AM and sends the data using the tablet. These measurements will help us to validate and further improve the rainfall forecasts. However, we learned that the measurements are also of great use to the farmers themselves. Measuring the daily rainfall helps farmers to interpret the rainfall forecast, which is given in mm’s of rain, better. Next to that, they use the rainfall measurements to check whether our forecasts were correct.

The ‘Chef du Rain’ measure the rainfall every morning

Based on the suggestions of farmers we visited, we will further improve the weather forecast. In the end, our goal is that the weather forecasts improve crop yield and increase the livelihood and resilience of Burundian farmers.

First Africa, now Asia: Fall Armyworm is becoming a world-wide epidemic

The Fall Armyworm (FAW, Latin: Spodoptera frugiperda) has been taunting farmers in the Americas for centuries. The FAW has over 80 different crops on its diet, but prefers maize. Just three years ago the FAW spread to West-Africa, most likely via air traffic. By today, the FAW has been reported throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and poses a huge threat to food security and the livelihood of farmers. The economic damage is estimated to be several billion USD. Unfortunately, this is not the end. Just recently the FAW has also invaded Asia: India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Yemen now have to face a new pest. The map below shows the current extent of the FAW.

Reportings of the Fall Armyworm (Source: CABI)

Which countries are next? A recent study by Early et al., 2018 investigated the world-wide climatologic suitability for the FAW. In short, the climate should neither be too cold nor too dry. The map below shows areas which are suitable for sustaining year-round FAW populations. Given how fast the FAW has spread over the African continent in the past three years, it seems likely that it will spread further into Asia and possibly even Australia or Europe.


Climatologic suitability for sustaining FAW populations year-round. Purple colors indicate high suitability. Source: Early et al., 2018. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.40.28165

If the FAW is to spread to suitable locations in Europe, across the Mediterranean, or Morocco, we could face a similar situation as in North-America right now. There, regions in Texas and Florida are warm enough to sustain FAW populations year-round. Further up north the winters are too cold, but with the arrival of spring it gets warm enough for the FAW to migrate northwards. By the end of summer, the FAW can get as far as Canada, damaging crops along the way.

Weather Impact has joined forces with Satelligence to battle the Fall Armyworm. Using a combination of weather and satellite data we are developing an early warning system for the Fall Armyworm. Right now, farmers often only notice the FAW when the damage has been done and yield loss is inevitable. Our early warning system could inform them about the risk in advance, enabling them to take preventive actions and avert harvest losses.

Extreme weather in 2018

The year 2018 was the fourth warmest year on record, with a global average surface air temperature of 14.7°C as shown by the data from Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). The last five years were on average 1.1°C higher than pre-industrial levels. Furthermore, the year 2018 was also the fourth costliest year since 1980 for insured losses due to natural hazards according to Munich RE. The total losses due to natural hazards were estimated at $160 billion, of which 78% had a meteorological or climatological cause.

Although parts of Canada, Kazakhstan, the Antarctic and the oceans were cooler than the 1981-2010 average, most parts of the globe experienced higher surface air temperatures than in 1981-2010. In particular the Arctic, Europe, the Middle East and parts of Antarctica experienced temperatures that were more than 2°C higher than the long-term average. Together with the high temperatures, the CO2 levels have continued to rise in 2018 to an annual average column-averaged CO2 concentration of 406.7 ppm. Just after the year finished, the CO2 concentration at Mauna Loa reached a record high daily CO2 concentration of 413.45 ppm on the 12th of January 2019.


Surface air temperature anomaly for 2018 relative to the average for 1981-2010 (Source: Copernicus Climate Change Service, ECMWF)

Apart from the extremely high temperatures and CO2 concentrations, the year 2018 contained a large number of extreme events. Most of the events with the highest losses were weather related and occurred during the second half of the year. The tropical cyclones Florence, Michael (Northern America) and Jebi (Japan) are listed in the top 5 costliest natural events of last year. Other weather or climatic events that caused high losses were flood events in Nigeria and Kenya and a large hailstorm in Australia.

Large parts of Europe look back at a year with drought. The northern part of Europe experienced a hot and dry summer. The southern part of the continent, however, experienced a wetter year than the 1981-2010 average. In the Netherlands, 2018 was an extreme weather year, with many records broken. It was one of the driest years ever measured in The Netherlands and the amount of sunshine hours was the second most measured since 1901. The year also accounted for the highest number of warm days (maximum temperature above 20°C) since the measurements started.

After an extreme 2017, the year 2018 again ends up as a year with a lot of extremes. As the climate is changing, it is important to keep the impact as small as possible. By informing our clients about extreme weather events, they are able to take precautions and reduce the impact of such events.

Hurricane Michael over the Gulf of Mexico (Source: EUMETSAT)

Mobile weather services for Ethiopian sesame farmers

Sesame is a crop that is sensitive to weather variability; the annual yield is influenced by local weather, especially rainfall amounts and wind. Knowledge on coming weeks’ weather can help small scale farmers to plan their farm activities and address weather related risks. Over the year 2018, a mobile weather services was piloted with 3000 sesame farmers in Amhara and Tigray, two regions in the north of Ethiopia. The farmers received three times a week a weather forecast on their mobile phone in their local language. This pilot was part of the CommonSense project and was carried out in collaboration with the National Meteorological Agency of Ethiopia (NMA) and Sesame Business Network (SBN). To validate the quality of the forecasts, two studies were conducted:
1) An evaluation of the model forecasts against ground stations of the Ethiopian National Meteorological Agency;
2) An evaluation of user experience with a representative group of farmers and agricultural experts.

The validation of the forecasts with the ground stations demonstrates that the forecasts have good skill in forecasting rainfall occurrence over the coming days. The model reaches an accuracy of 70-90% in the central highlands of Ethiopia and Rift valley. The model is a little “over-predictive”, meaning that rain is forecast a slightly more often than occurs. This result is interesting material for the experts of Weather Impact to continue improving the forecasts. Our future research will focus on the application different algorithms or bias corrections, to make the weather service even more trust-worthy for its users, especially during the onset of the rainy season.


The user evaluation makes clear that rainfall forecasts are, compared to temperature and wind, the most important source of information for the farmers. All the respondents confirmed they use the information for their planning and farm management. They use the information to determine the right time of sowing, to apply fertilizer or to protect their crops. Of the interviewed farmers, 96% finds the short-term rainfall forecasts being (close to) very accurate. The majority of farmers also uses wind and temperature forecasts to plan their management practices.

I shared the weather forecast to my colleagues during coffee ceremony and other social gatherings. Some thought that I intervene with God’s work. Some laugh at me and others ask why it is only me who gets the SMS. But what I observed is that the weather forecast should be scaled-up to others. It is very useful to farmers knowing the weather condition of their area.

This was Mr. Yelale Amebachews’ experience regarding the weather forecast.

Although the CommonSense project has come to and end at 31st of December 2018, the partners in this pilot are planning to continue the forecasting service over the year 2019 with funding from SBN.

We would like to thank our colleagues from Sesame Business Network; Melisew Misker and Ataklti Fissha, and from National Meteorological Agency; Endeg Aniley and Hebte Tsegaye, for the report of the user-evaluation. The testimonial and figures in this blog are cited from their report. The figure in the beginning was received from SBN.

Workshop weather services for farmers in Tanzania

Weather Impact has visited the Tanzanian Meteorological Agency (TMA) for a workshop about weather services for small scale farmers in Tanzania. The workshop took place in the scope of the Sikia project and targeted the experts in Numerical Weather Prediction at TMA.
The workshop was focused on using ensemble forecasts for tailored weather forecasting and weather warnings. Fiona van der Burgt from Weather Impact introduced the concept of ensemble forecasting and how one can use ensemble forecasting models to make optimal decision support services for farmers. In a hands-on session, ensemble model output was translated by the participants to a localised weather forecast that can be send to a farmer as mobile text message.
Furthermore, the workshop covered a session about public private partnerships to make sustainable weather services for specific end-users. The session included a hands-on session working with the ‘weather toolbox’ in HydroNET, a product that was developed within the G4AW-Rain4Africa project.
At closure of the workshop, the ambition was formulated to verify the quality of the mobile forecasts provided to farmers registered under Sikia. The verification will be done against ground-station measurements provided by TMA and against the observations that the farmers make themselves. This will result in a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the validity of the forecasts over the area.

CropMon meets farmers in Eldoret, Kenya

In the week from 17 – 21 September, the 4th annual partner meeting of the G4AW project CropMon took place in Eldoret, Kenya. The goal of CropMon (Crop Monitoring Service) is to provide Kenyan farmers information to enhance their crop growth. The information service – both weather information and information about the status of the crop – is provided via SMS to farmers. In the project four Kenyan partners -Cereal Growers Association, Coffee Management, Equity Group Foundation and Sugar Research Institute- cooperate with Dutch partners AgroCares, NEO and Weather Impact and Turkish partner Springg. CropMon provides two types of services:

1. the basic service, in which only weather information is provided for the area around the field;
2. the full service, in which very specific information of the crop status in the monitored field is provided as well.

Weather Impact is responsible for making an accurate weakly weather forecast message for all associated farmers.

The goal of the annual partner meeting was to update all partners about the progress of the project and to plan the work for the upcoming year. Furthermore, a couple of farm visits were done to see how the CropMon service are received in the field. Farmers were able to exchange some experiences with all partners. Farmers were very positive about the weather forecasts as it gives them the ability to plan agricultural activities such as ploughing and application of top dressing. However, the farmers would be very interested to also receive weather forecast on a longer (i.e. seasonal) time scale. With the seasonal forecasts, a farmer would for instance be able to choose a different variety of maize if a shorter rain season is forecasted. In the next year, Weather Impact will investigate the possibility to deliver these forecasts in a short and comprehensive way to the farmers.

Since the project has entered the last year of the subsidy phase, a good working business plan needs to be prepared. To investigate the interest of potential stakeholders, visits were done to Equity Bank and Kibos sugar factory to explain how CropMon could help them and to discuss a possible collaboration. Part of the business plan is the growth in number of registrations . For the end of August 2019, the goal is set to have 30.000 farmers registered for the full service and 150.000 farmers registered for the basic service of CropMon.

The partner meeting was an inspiring week, with a lot of testimonials from farmers that were happy to receive the CropMon services. The meeting also gave new momentum to all partners to work extra hard to improve the services and enhance the number of registrations. Let’s make it to the 150.000 registrations!

Weather Impact expands the team

Sept 2018 – Weather Impact has welcomed two new employees in the team; Bob Ammerlaan MSc and Sippora Stellingwerf MSc. The expansion of our team will enable further growth in the delivery of weather information in our African projects and beyond. Bob Ammerlaan and Sippora have a background in climate physics and meteorology from Utrecht and Wageningen University respectively.  More information about our team can be found via our company profile on LinkedIn.

Left: Bob Ammerlaan MSc, right: Sippora Stellingwerf MSc

GAP4All project officially started in Burundi

Last month, Weather Impact visited Burundi as part of GAP4All, a G4AW funded project (link). GAP4All stands for “Good Agricultural Practices for All” and aims to deliver information services to Burundian small-scale farmers through an Agri-Coach app. With such service, farmers should be able to decide: 1) What crop to plant where, 2) When to plant and perform farming activities, and 3) How to do this for optimal results. This kind of information is believed to result in considerably higher yields while reducing (climate) risks and preserving water and land, increasing the income for smallholder farmers throughout the country.

The week-long trip to Burundi started with visits to various institutes and companies in the capital Bujumbura, such as the Dutch Embassy, the Ministry of Agriculture, ISABU (Burundian seed institute), and IGEBU (Burundian meteorological institute). For such a project to succeed it is important that it is endorsed by all such institutes and governmental organisations. Also, they possess a wealth of local and practical knowledge that is needed for a correct implementation of such an information service. Multiple workshops were organised about weather forecasts, app visualization/design and GIS to exchange insights and ideas.

After these -somewhat formal- visits we embarked on a small roadtrip across Burundi to visit farming communities: the second main goal of the trip. The project will be piloted in the Gitega, Karusi, and Kayanza provinces, so we visited one group of farmers in every province. The small-scale farming communities will be the end users of the Agri-Coach app and their opinions are therefore vital for a successful project. Most farmers have no scholarly background and do not often use technological devices such as (smart)phones, so making an information service that is interpretable by many will definitely be a challenge.

 

Photos by Frodo Jansen

Weather Impact and Satelligence combat the Fall Armyworm in Africa

Fall Armyworm (FAW) is an insect that is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. It prefers maize but can feed on more than 80 additional species of plants. It has a voracious appetite, reproduces and spreads quickly, given the right environmental conditions. FAW was first detected in Central and Western Africa in early 2016 and has spread across most of sub-Saharan Africa in a staggering speed. Millions of hectares of maize, most in the hands of smallholder farmers, have been infested and the crop pest poses a significant threat to food security, income and livelihoods. According to an evidence note published by the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) in September 2017, unless proper control measures are implemented, the pest could cause maize yield losses estimated between 3.6 and 6.2 billion dollar per year across the 12 major African maize producing countries.

With the aim of combating the spread of FAW across the African continent Weather Impact and Satelligence have joint forces to develop a digital forecasting model that provides actionable insights to users. The innovative model combines high resolution satellite- and weather data to predict the outbreak of the FAW. Farmers receive timely warnings about the risk of outbreak and are enabled to take appropriate measures to protect their crops. The model will be first tested in Ghana where in 2017 over 144 000 hectares were infested with the pest and the livelihood of more than 4 million farmers is threatened.

The first phase of the development is funded by the Small Business Innovation Research program, part of the Dutch Government.


Picture from: www.fao.org