Launch of the first Rain4Africa Agricloud App - A Groundbreaking Step!

On 3 September the first product from the Rain4Africa project was launched.

The Rain4Africa project is one of the projects using Geodata supported by the Dutch Government. The project offers opportunities to co-create sustainable solutions for local challenges, strengthens the production and resilience of SA food systems using geodata. It especially supports small-scale farmers with free services in order to grow their businesses and increase their contribution in food security.

Launch of Agricloud with amongst others (first row) CEO SAWS Mr Jerry Lengoasa, CEO ARC Mr Shadrack Moephuli and deptury ambassador M Jan Huesken

The Rain for Africa (R4A) project aims at providing agricultural advisory services to (small-scale) farmers based on the best available weather and climate information at their specific location to help improve the quality and quantity of food production in a sustainable manner. Weather information from SAWS is enriched with algorithms from ARC to assist farmers with determining the best dates to plant, spray, irrigate or harvest. These advisories are made available via the HydroNET webportal, AgriCloud Smartphone App and USSD service.

Developing applications

“Rain for Africa” (R4A) is a project to develop applications to provide advice to farmers as agricultural advisory services based on current weather information at their specific location. ARC, with its mandate for research at the intersection between agriculture and climate and through working closely with small-scale farmers, realised the need for improved advisory services.  The R4A project aims to integrate various data sources into a best available historic and current climate dataset with easy accessibility, while adding value for agricultural and other clients at an affordable price. It will thereby contribute towards empowering farmers to improve their quantity and quality of food production, by providing weather forecasts and agricultural advice about their farming systems.

During 2017, the ARC team interacted with many small-scale farmers and extension staff in six provinces (Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West) to assess their day-to-day farming needs and current use of cell phones in their operational farming decisions. They were all enthusiastic about a weather forecast for their own specific village and requested more information about a range of farming practices including livestock and cropping enterprises. There is also a high demand for additional education of small-scale farmers and extension staff on the effective routine use of weather and climate information on the farm.

Assisting farmers

A software application (“the Agricloud App”), operating on a cell phone, was therefore developed to assist farmers with determining a planting date for maize (more products will be developed in the coming period). It uses the sum of the rainfall received in the past 10 days together with the amount of rain forecast for the upcoming 10 days. The planting information can be accessed either via a smart phone or for a simple phone, via registration to a USSD service with their own specific location. The smart phone App is directed to the extension services so that they can assist by registering a number of small-scale farmers and thus help to optimise production, in line with the current season’s weather conditions. The messages are available in eight languages, namely English, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Tshivenda and Xitsonga.

Another element in the App, also based on weather forecast information, helps farmers to decide whether to go ahead with a spraying programme or to wait for better conditions. It provides a recommendation about suitable conditions for spraying either herbicides or pesticides each day, divided into three time periods and given for the next 3-days.

Geodata

The R4A project is managed by ARC and the team includes experts from ARC, South African Weather Service (SAWS) and Dutch HydroLogic and eLEAF. It is funded by the Netherlands Space Office via the Geodata for Agriculture and Water (G4AW) programme (see: https://g4aw.spaceoffice.nl/en/ for all the activities and projects under the program). The G4AW programme will reach over 4 million smallholder food producers in 14 countries: Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Mali, Myanmar, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Vietnam.

For more information see: http://www.rain4africa.org/