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Practical Suggestion for COP26: Empowering Farmers with Digital Climate Advisory Services (DCAS)

The 10-day countdown to COP26 is now upon us. As delegations head to Glasgow, the question floating around is what will be the outcome? In this blog we offer a practical suggestion to get started to help emerging economies understand the weather pattern shifts and to empower farmers and consumers to adapt to climate change.  Key to this conversation is the important role  Africa’s agriculture will play as we look to carbon capture through improved farming systems for a continent that will see a doubling of its population over the next three decades.  What makes this particularly challenging is that over 95% of the African farming landscape is rainfed and dependent on increasingly variable rains.  Farmers traditionally time farming operations based on the calendar but with shifting rainfall patterns this practice is placing farmers at risk of losing their crops. Farmers need access to new information and tools to make timely decisions on when to plant, what to plant and when to perform key farm operations to secure a harvest. However, most farmers in emerging markets don’t yet have access to basic localized information such as weather data and targeted agronomy recommendations for their specific crops.  

Fortunately there are solutions. Localized weather data and weather based farm recommendations are now being rolled out to farmers through mobile phones and the internet. Science has created a wide range of crop and disease models driven by weather data to generate actionable recommendations to farmers in real-time; we refer to this service as Digital Climate Advisory Services (DCAS). In a recent synthesis report titled “A Blueprint for Digital Climate-Informed Advisory Services: Building the Resilience of 300 Million Small-Scale Producers by 2030” defined DCAS as “tools, platforms, or activities that disseminate climate information and help individuals and/or organizations make climate-resilient decisions and adapt to climate variability and change” (WRI, 2021). In its simplest form DCAS can be a local weather forecast to inform farm operations through to simplified recommendations based on a farm’s location and crop to  maximize production, profit and quality of produce. 

As our atmosphere warms, food systems are at risk. This is contributing to rising food prices, even in advanced economies like the USA.  Since the earliest days of farming, farmers have adapted their practices to many climate challenges.  However, increasing weather variability and extremes are disrupting hard-earned adaptation strategies by farmers leaving them at increased risk of crop failure.   Therefore, farmers need DCAS for in-time and localized weather information and weather-based recommendations to effectively adapt to weather shifts so our food system become resilient and food prices are more affordable to consumers.  

As weather changes, temperatures and humidity also change that can increase  the incidence and impact of crop diseases. Dramatic shifts in diseases pose a significant challenge to farmers, agronomists and agro-input providers who are caught off guard by these rapidly changing production environments that pose new pest and disease challenges to farmers and our modern food system. 

Fortunately, DCAS can ‘go to scale’ quickly through strategic public-private-producer partnerships. The WRI report offers several use cases for DCAS offering a range from  1-to-10 to 1-to-70 returns on investment (ROI) to farmers with a 25% increase in income that rolls up to significant increases in GDP for agrarian-based economies. (WRI, 2021).  Based on aWhere’s existing partnerships in Africa to deliver DCAS, the cost to deliver these services to a farmer per season ranges between $1-$5 depending on the operating environment. Given the low cost operational cost per farmer and high return and urgent need all point to rapid implementation over the next year.  

Look for more posts from aWhere on successful examples of DCAS with its partners in Africa to offer tangible examples of DCAS. Mercy Corps has summarized key success factors for DCAS in its  ‘Future Market Playbook 2021’ that calls out three key components: digital platforms, data and ecosystem enablers that will be reflected in our upcoming blogs. 

During COP26, DCAS offers a powerful resource to farmers against the backdrop of climate change.  Solutions deployed in countries like Kenya can be scaled across Africa through committed partnerships aligned towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.  Local weather insights is the first step towards practical climate action.