South Africa’s Agricultural Research Centre (ARC) is planning a weather service to better assist small farmers.
The aim of the Rain for Africa (R4A) project is to provide useful information – at the right time – to farmers.
The ARC, in collaboration with the South African Weather Service, already provides information from about 600 automatic weather stations all over the country.
The plan is to convert the information into useful agricultural data, and to provide that to small and commercial farmers, with user-friendly cell phone applications (apps) designed according to the needs of each group.
The project will be launched within the next three years and aims to reach 125 000 small farmers. The project is also supported by several companies from the Netherlands.
BETTER SMALL FARMERS
The aim of the project is to give information about the best time to plant and spray, provide a weather forecast for 10 to 15 days and give personal rainfall measurements to small farmers.
With the information small farmers will also improve their knowledge on the influence of weather conditions on food production.
The information will ultimately help farmers increase their income and lower input costs.
The proposal is to sell the R4A platform to commercial farmers, to finance the free service to small farmers.
SCARCE CELL PHONES
Enos Kwata, extension officer at the Limpopo agriculture department, says most of the farmers he works with don’t have smart phones. That means sms and WhatsApp services might be the best way to distribute the weather information.
He says small farmers should have a physical gathering point, like a municipal office, where they can collect information. He says extension officers should also receive continuous training.
Kwata says the farmers he works with are also sceptical about weather forecasts, believing “only God knows and nobody else”. He believes it’s important to gain the trust of farmers for this service.
Kwata also says it’s important to provide the service in several languages.