App uses science, tradition to warn farmers about drought

13Jun 2020
The Guardian
App uses science, tradition to warn farmers about drought

TO help farmers prepare for the impacts of climate change, Kenyan computer scientist Mutoni Masinde designed the mobile platform IT. Name Information Technology and Indigenous Knowledge, and the platform sends farmers ’drought instructions via an app or SMS message.

Kenyan computer scientist Mutoni Masinde.

By Adam Crook

Although it uses climate data, Masinde says most African farmers are well-connected with traditional knowledge, which can also be used to formulate the expectations of the platform.

“I grew up with one Kenyan, I have noticed that there is no science to tell the village and most farmers when to plant,”  Masinde said.

“They look at insects, they look at animal behavior and they make a decision, ‘I think it will rain in two weeks’ time.”

ITIKI employs young people in farming communities to collect photos and updates about animal behavior and native vegetation, including tree flowering. They summarize their results in the ITIKI app and ITIKI collects this information from local weather stations for data weather forecasts for months.

Farmers can subscribe to just one service a few cents, and receive updates regularly in their native language, helping them make advance decisions about what crops they should plant and whether to sell or save their produce.

Most African countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change and small-scale farmers in particular, who rely on rainfall for their crops, are, accordingly, facing poverty and food insecurity, UN climate experts.

That could have major economic consequences. Agriculture contributes 15 percent of total GDP in Africa 2017 UN Report, and constitutes up to half of the continent’s employment African Development Bank (AfDB).

Masinde, now a professor at the Central University of Technology Free State in South Africa, launched the app in Kenya in 2016, where agriculture is One-third of GDP.

“Investing in climate-friendly solutions, especially targeting small-scale farmers, is driving GDP growth in Africa,” said Masinde.

African governments are responding to drought and severe weather, rather than planning ahead for these events. “We are not prepared, she said. When we woke up and found that people in rural Kenya were starving, there was no rain for people on one side of the country.”

More than 15 thousand farmers in Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa are using IT, Masinde said. Masinde said their crop yields have increased by an average of 11% since farmers started using the app.

IT has received 50,000 750,000 grants from the US and South African governments, which will be used to increase operations. By the end of this year, Masinde expects 100,000 farmers to sign up for the platform.