SMS alerts help farmers protect crops
Farmers of smallholdings in the tropics are increasing their yearly crop yields using an SMS alert service that lets them know how the weather will affect their output. Using GPS mapping of a local area,
iska
is a subscription service that currently assists more than 80,000 farmers worldwide. The service provides reliable two-day, monthly and seasonal forecasts via text message to the user’s phone. Lizzie Merrill, Project Manager at
Ignitia
, the Swedish tech enterprise behind iska, told
Development Finance
that the service is comprehensively designed using simple language to help farmers plan their work around tropical weather changes. “[A farmer] wakes at home, probably at six or seven o’clock in the morning, and a text comes in somewhere between seven and eight o’clock, and what it lets [them] know is the weather forecast for that day, and the next day. What they then do is to decide their farming activities for that day,” she said. Around
2.8 billion people
(40 percent of the world’s population) live in the tropics, where small-scale farming is common among communities. Food insecurity is rife in tropical regions however due to low crop yields caused by severe weather. Up to 80 percent of crop damage or loss in these regions is caused by cyclones, floods or drought. Iska can be used to mitigate the effects of severe climates, as well as helping farmers decide when to perform routine tasks outside of bad weather. “If you are a cocoa farmer [using iska], you’d know not to spray fertiliser or pesticide that day, because if it rains immediately after, then it’s washed away,” Merill said. Ignitia forged iska in 2014 in collaboration with the United Nations (UN) initiative
Business Call to Action
(BCtA). Iska could reach the pockets of up to 1.2 million farmers in West Africa by the end of 2017, according to BCtA. The service could also bring countries in Africa such as Nigeria, Ghana and Burkina Faso closer to achieving their
sustainable development goals
(SDGs) by 2030. Iska is expected to push farmers to embrace climate-smart agriculture, though weather data in tropical countries remains limited. Data access is not the only challenge however.
Other mobile platforms
aiming to improve individuals’ access to services and strengthen their financial independence are tasked with delivering these benefits to remote areas, where connectivity is poor or virtually absent. Merill says all users of iska require at least a mobile phone and some connectivity, though she said the service is designed specifically to make the farmer’s personal device the essential component for climate data access. “This is why SMS is so beneficial – it is the most successful way to communicate in low or intermittent connectivity. The messages are light, and can be sent when a connection is established, even for a second,” she said. Ignitia plans to expand iska to 20 countries across Africa, Southeast Asia and Central America.
By Jack Aldane
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Photo: Lizzie Merill