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Mr. Chris Vava at his farm in Zimbabwe

Impact in the Field: Value of Weather Data for Smallholder Farmers in Zimbabwe

Guest Post by Chris Vava

The 2019-2020 rainy season in Zimbabwe was drier than normal and many farmers across the country struggled to produce enough for their own income and food security. In spite of the poor rains, one farmer group in the country was able to increase their yields by leveraging weather data provided by the Ag Observatory and aWhere. Chris Vava, a participant of the Zimbabwe Ag Observatory training program, closely monitored the weather for his farm and his neighbors’ farms and was able to make timely decisions about when to plant, fertilize, and harvest his maize crop. Timely farm operations resulted in a record yield during a very dry year. Read his story below to learn more about how smallholder farmers can use aWhere’s localized weather data to improve their crop yields.

Impact from the Field

Over the years I have learnt and built some experience as I farm maize, groundnuts, soya beans, sugar beans, and breed various animals. My interest has also been trying a large number of varieties and coming up with the best combinations in a very small environment which is just under 10 hectares of land.

I have been on this land for 10 years now, the last year [2020] has been an exceptionally good one in terms of maize yields despite weaker rain patterns that prevailed over the past year [2019-2020]. Here are the main reasons my yield was high:

  • The main reason is that I efficiently and effectively utilized information and knowledge that I gathered during the Zimbabwe Ag Observatory Training especially before the rains. For successful farming, timing and knowing when to do certain things is very important, especially getting precision forecasts which gives the amount of rain that you are likely to get and when.
  • Second the persistence of following good farming practices even with little rain.

Yields of most farmers in my area were extremely improved as I shared a lot of information through our Bindura West Farmers WhatsApp group which is very vibrant. However, for those farmers whose yields were poor, this had to do with other reasons which I will mention below:

  • Farmers were waiting for help (Command agricultural inputs) with fertilizers for planting and top dressing and most importantly fighting against fall-armyworm which was a menace due to extensive sunny conditions;
  • Lack of equipment as well as the prohibitive cost of hiring tractors and planting equipment for most farmers. There were also problems with the availability of the equipment for hiring;
  • General preparedness – such as land preparation, weeding, contour ridges, as well as moisture preservatio

In my farming community we have realized that data sharing of all kinds of information is very vital. So as mentioned above we have formed a WhatsApp group through which information is freely shared. I provided a lot of weather data and whenever there was rain farmers shared the actual rain gauge reading (image here). Below is a sample message from Bindura South Farmers WhatsApp group

  • “Dear Farmers thank you for the news about the rains! However, I think it would have a lot of value if you indicate which place you and if possible for those with rain gauges to also indicate how much in terms of mm. Otherwise we might be talking of cyclones happening somewhere not in our fields. Information about rainfall is a good benchmark for now for our future”
Rainfall gauge used by farmers

Chris also shared weekly forecasts with the WhatsApp group. A weekly chart for Chris’s farm as well as a sample bulletin created with aWhere analytics are shown below.

Weekly Climate Chart showing patterns compared to normal. This location is Chris's farm.
Report created by Chris to inform his farmer group of weather trends

Chris’s story shows how the right information at the right time can build resilience to weather variability and allow farmers to improve yields under poor weather conditions. aWhere has been working with the Ag Observatory program in multiple countries and there are other stories similar to Chris’s. The value of weather data to farmers only increases as variability caused by climate change continues to grow. To learn more about the Ag Observatory please contact us.