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The Importance of Digital Climate Advisory Services (DCAS)

Africa’s agriculture is primarily rainfed – about 95% of the food produced is 100% reliant upon the amount and distribution of the rains.  Timely behavior by farmers, especially planting as the rainy season arrives, is the key first step to successful food production.  Use of a traditional crop calendar is less and less reliable as weather variability increases as the atmosphere warms. Most farmers have little access to a localized weather forecast much less access to agronomically interpreted (crop and growth stage specific,) timely and actionable information.  

There is no technical reason for DCAS to not go to scale now.

The majority of farmers in Africa use and have access to cell phones.   Agronomic models, tuned to the growth stage of food crops, are known, published and reliable.  Crop specific extension advice, tailored for growth stage, is available.  Operational systems connect the location of the farmer, the crop/cultivar, date planted, the weather, and the digitally organized growth stage specific advice with SMS texting infrastructure to provide in-time location and crop specific information to the farmer.

DCAS is the foundation to address weather variability, adaptation, and food insecurity challenges.

WRI’s  ‘Blueprint’ document defines DCAS as “Digital climate-informed advisory services (DCAS) are 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.”

Of all the challenges we face as our atmosphere warms, food production is one of the most exposed, vulnerable, and at risk.  Crops require anywhere from 75 to 180 days (or more) of expected weather without ecological threshold exceeding extremes.  When we say ‘expected weather’ this is more true than typically realized.  Farmers are ingenious and can adapt their practices to many agro-ecological challenges.  It is the unexpected weather that compromises these hard-earned adaptation strategies.   As weather variability increases, local adaptation experience may no longer provide suitable practices to bring a crop to harvest.  One example to communicate this is rainy season onset.  Over the years and across many parts of tropical Africa, the rains are ‘said to arrive’ around specific calendar dates.  In eastern Kenya, the October rains ‘arrive’ around 15 October. In Burkina Faso, it might be late June or in Zimbabwe, early November.  Climate change and weather variability have already impacted these calendar onset dates and farmers need information from science (meteorological information and the matching agronomic practices) to adapt and this information needs to arrive ‘in real-time’.  DCAS solves for this.

More insidious, as the weather changes, temperatures and humidity also change and this can introduce whole new foliar disease challenges. These challenges impact food production and quality; and, these unexpected conditions impact farmers who may have little experience with such adverse agro-ecological situations.

As more attention is being paid to DCAS and ‘going to scale’ the economic impact can be considerable.  If a hectare of land produces a modest USD $700 per season and this can be increased by a conservative 10% with DCAS, that $70/hectare is a huge return on the $1-$5 it might take to capture the farmer’s information and send a couple SMS messages each week.  As the WRI Blueprint document shows, the impact of DCAS is closer to a 25% increase on income and 30% on overall productivity. 

The ROI of an ‘at-scale’ DCAS activity increases the GDP of a country.

Aiming conservatively to implement just the agronomic information of DCAS activities is a solid investment.  The positive economic impact is clear and the ROI superb even at a 10% increase in income:  Invest in DCAS now. 

Once the farmer is connected, a whole package of services can be bolted on to the agronomic information system – from market prices to input timing and specificity to financial services enabling a cascade of value-add.  Such overall value lifts farm families into a wholly different and less risky agricultural production economy. Mercy Corp’s ‘Future Market Playbook 2021’ provides insight into the multitude of benefits of engaging rural households into a farm focused information service.

It is useful to note that 100% of all farmers in emerged economies are surrounded by quite effective and complete ‘DCAS’. From crop and hybrid specific information to advice on every step of all agronomic decisions such as when and how dense to plant, fertilize, weed, harvest, and what diseases to scout for. Weather information is completely woven into the fabric of every single decision.  

aWhere’s opinion is simple: DCAS as a concept is fundamental to agriculture.  We must find ways to get in-time weather-driven crop/agronomic and location-specific information to all farmers.  

The first step to adapt to variable weather is specific information.

In the coming weeks leading up to COP26 in Glasgow, aWhere will post a series of blogs on successful examples of DCAS and the depth to which DCAS has been studied and re-re-confirmed.  aWhere is proud to support the #ClimateShot, an agricultural innovation race to save our planet, and encourages greater investment in DCAS.


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