Missing Rain

The weather in East Africa is changing and becoming more difficult to predict. For example, the temperature in Kenya is rising. According to an ILRI report, climate model simulations under a range of possible greenhouse gas emission scenarios suggest that the median temperature increase for Africa is 3–4°C by the end of the 21st century, which is roughly 1.5 times the global mean response. At the same time, the rain is becoming more intense, threatening to destroy crops and wash away nutrition. As a result of climate change, Kenya could see significant areas where cropping is no longer possible and the role of livestock as a livelihood option increases.

The Swedish and Danish foreign aid agencies have funded the development of The Kenyan National Climate Change Response Strategy. The recommended actions range from adaptation and mitigation measures in key sectors, to necessary policy, legislative and institutional adjustments, to ways of enhancing climate change awareness education and communication in the country, to necessary capacity development requirements, and to ways of enhancing research and development as well as technology development and transfer in areas that respond to climate change, among many others.

According to The Adaptation to Climate Change and Insurance (ACCI) Project, a bilateral Project between the Kenyan and German Governments, rain-fed agriculture, which accounts for 98% of the agricultural activities in the country, is the backbone of Kenya’s economy. It is very vulnerable to increasing temperatures, droughts and floods, which reduce agricultural productivity. Increasing temperatures are also likely to affect the growing of major crops in the country and threaten the livelihoods of farmers and processors.

A very good illustration of the predictions have been put forward by Chris Funk in his article Current Climate Trend Analysis of Kenya.

The World Bank has gathered a lot of statistics concerning the weather that you can play around with, but how about predictive tools?

The climate change of course also means that the market for weather prediction software is growing. This is something the Swedish start-up Ignitia is taking advantage of. The CEO Liisa Petrykowska, is one of only seven Swedish Ashoka fellows. Together with four other researchers, she developed a model that using data from satellites from Eumetsat, Nasa och Noaa provides a very accurate prognosis.

"Noticing that global models for weather predictions were made from simple algorithms, the research team quickly realized that part of the solution would be to calculate a different, unique algorithm for the tropics. Using the convective process—a process that wasn’t naturally used to predict weather but rather measured the moisture in the air—in addition to the same satellite images and geo-stationary data that had previously been available, the team put together different equations that represented the reality of the region. Factoring in pressure and temperature differences, Liisa’s scientific team was able to create a new algorithm that predicted tropical weather with an 84% accuracy—a rate that had previously been unheard of for the region." Ashoka

According to Dagens PS, this can be compared to the accuracy of the African television (30%) and the BBC (39%). The company has received support from the Swedish innovation funding agency Vinnova and the incubator STING. It has also been featured in a lot of Swedish media such as Ny Teknik and Dagens Industri.

Not only the technology is novel, she has introduced a new business model as well, adjusting to her main customers (low-income farmers):

"Liisa’s business model includes three ways in which someone can receive the text message weather forecasting service—direct payment, corporate payment, and third-party reselling. First, individual farmers can subscribe directly to the service. Liisa uses a very low pricing model, costing approximately .026 cents per text message. Thus, farmers who subscribe individually pay less than $1/month and an average of $5/season. Second, corporations or organizations can subscribe to the service. Within a short period of starting the SMS service, Liisa already had seed companies, pesticide companies, USAID, and IFDC (International Fertilizer Development Center) wanting subscriptions to the service. Third, Liisa’s strategy also includes third-party reselling. For example, farming co-operatives can subscribe and then re-sell the information." Ashoka

According to Epoch Times, one of the "secrets" behind Ignitia is to help farmers overcome their suspicion of science and their faith in the weather gods. Apparently, Liisa suggests to use the traditional methods in combination with the app, although only sacrificing half a chicken.

From Nairobi March 2015

I think the story of Ignitia is very good when it comes to how to go from research knowledge to impact. Cross-disciplinary research team, novel use of existing knowledge assets in combination with new knowledge, iterations, proof-of-concept trials, close conversations with potential users, collaborations with international organisations, patient investors, use of mobile technology, novel business models together with a social impact ambition paves the way. Should you like to have a go at getting a piece of the action yourself, USAID has put together information on current ICT weather apps and recommendations for practitioners.

By coming to Nairobi in May, I apparently came in the month with the most rainfall, and for sure, I got wet. This is what Expert Africa calls The Long Rain, with the shorter version occurring in November-December (note to self: try to avoid going back to Nairobi then, since I've had enough of rain in Sweden).

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had
Toto, "Africa"

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