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.

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.