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Open data for smallholder weather information services

Data4Ag Week 2017, 20-24 November 2017, The Hague, Netherlands

December 7, 2017

There is a range of current weather information that are available on the internet. Ready access to ‘open weather data’ means that there is a huge potential for embedding weather information into a variety of web and mobile applications that would be helpful to smallholder farmers. In November 2017, CTA brought together practitioners, policy makers and academics in The Hague to explore practical and strategic challenges in adapting open weather data for applications that smallholder farmers could exploit to drive productivity. 

Farmers need easy access to information about the weather in their localities to make good decisions about when to plant, irrigate, fertilise or harvest their crops. The better the information they have about rainfall, temperatures or storms, for example, the better placed they are to take advantage of favourable conditions or limit damage from bad weather.  

The two workshops, sponsored by Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) Action, Wageningen University & Research, the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and CTA, looked at examples of initiatives that are already transforming open weather data into user-friendly information for smallholder farmers. The aim of the workshops was to look at what would be required – in terms of capacity, business models, partnerships and standards – to build the momentum of pioneering initiatives into a revolution in weather information tailored to local needs. The conclusion was that the most fruitful approach is to consider entire value chains – from collecting and analysing open weather data to compiling and offering it in practical forms to users.

The value-chain approach

The first workshop, ‘Using weather data to support smallholder agriculture in Africa’, examined five initiatives in Africa. Open data is the raw material to which value can be added, for example by transforming basic data into weather information specifically for a certain area. Adding this value comes at a cost. Value chains are most effective when people involved in collecting, processing and consuming weather information work together. Clear communication between stakeholders, from meteorologists and policy makers on the supply side, end-users such as farmers and extension workers on the demand side, and service providers and entrepreneurs in between, enables real value to be created. Adding value to open weather data can be done by:

  • Taking a farmer-centric approach that incorporates local knowledge and takes account of structures already in place.
  • Developing a better understanding of viable business models, such as public–private partnerships or farmer-friendly payment schemes.
  • Measuring the difference that products and services using open weather data make to smallholder profitability, productivity, resilience and livelihoods.
  • Developing capacity all along value chains, for example helping those who generate meteorological and climatic data understand the needs of end-users, helping intermediaries develop robust businesses, and helping consumers recognise the value of weather data, the rights of those who generate data, and the importance of standards for data.

To make progress, those involved in the workshop undertook to convene a community of practice. This group will extend invitations to data and service providers, extension workers, farmer unions and other interested parties to identify partnerships and leverage existing networks to improve value chains for open weather data.  

Creating impact

The second workshop, ‘Creating impact for smallholders with weather data’’ paid particular attention to weather data for the micro-finance and insurance sectors, weather forecasting and early warning systems for agriculture, and weather data for advising farmers of management options.

For weather services to be sustainable, entrepreneurs need to be encouraged to get involved and invest in the weather data value chain. This could mean linking up with initiatives that encourage young entrepreneurs to be involved in agriculture. Arranging hackathons around open weather data and geodata, for example, could stimulate the interest of young people in devising apps to deliver weather information tailored to the needs of smallholders, extension workers and farmers’ unions. As yet there are ideas for combining and repackaging customised weather data into information bundles but limited proven business models.    

Communication

What became clear during the workshops was that the environment as it stands does not favour multi-stakeholder approaches, strategic cooperation or public–private partnerships. Without a favourable ecosystem the open weather data revolution is unlikely to happen. To make conditions more favourable, those encouraging weather services that would help smallholder farmers become more productive, and those responsible for agriculture, meteorology and climate in governments, need to work together to attract entrepreneurs, investors and trainers – entrepreneurs to incubate businesses, investors to build infrastructure, and trainers to develop skills in technical, communication, data-visualisation and human-centred design. Bringing about a revolution in open weather data value chains will ultimately depend on realising synergies between professionals, technicians, entrepreneurs and farmers.

The GODAN Action project is a community of practice to promote co-creation of agricultural services for smallholders with weather data. Sign up here to take part: http://tinyurl.com/COPWeatherData.