App uses science and tradition to warn African farmers of drought

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To help farmers prepare for the effects of climate change, Kenyan computer scientist Muthoni Masinde created the ITIKI mobile platform. The name stands for Information Technology and Indigenous Knowledge and the platform sends drought forecasts to farmers via an app or SMS message.

Although he uses meteorological data, Masinde says that most African farmers can better relate to the traditional knowledge also used to formulate the platform’s predictions.

“I grew up in a [Kenyan] Village and I noticed that most farmers don’t have any science to tell [them] when to plant, “Masinde told CNN.” They look at the insects, observe the behavior of the animals and then make a decision, “I think it will rain in two weeks.” “

ITIKI employs young people from farming communities to collect photos and updates on animal behavior and local vegetation, such as which trees are blooming. They acquire their results on the ITIKI app and ITIKI collects this information with data from local weather stations to model the weather models months in advance.

Farmers can sign up for the service only for a a few cents, and receive regular updates in their local language, helping them make early decisions about which crops they should grow and whether to sell or save their products.

Economic impact of drought

Many African countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change and in particular small farmers, who rely on rainfall for their crops, could face poverty and food insecurity, according to United Nations climate experts.
This could have serious economic repercussions. Agriculture contributes about 15% of Africa’s total GDP, according to UN report 2017and represents about half of the occupation of the continent, according to African Development Bank.
Now a professor at the Central University of Technology Free State, in South Africa, Masinde launched the app in 2016 in Kenya, where he deals with agriculture about a third of GDP.

“Investments in climate adaptation solutions, particularly targeting small-scale farmers, would lead to GDP growth [in Africa]”Masinde said.

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He added that African governments tend to react to drought and extreme weather rather than proactively plan for these events. “We don’t prepare for [drought]”he said.” It is as if we wake up and find that people in rural Kenya are hungry, that people from one side of the country don’t have rain. ”

Masinde says that ITIKI is now used by over 15,000 farmers in Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa. Since farmers started using the app, crop yields have increased on average by 11%, according to Masinde.

ITIKI has received $ 750,000 in funding from the United States and South African governments, which will be used to expand operations. By the end of this year, Masinde hopes to have over 100,000 farmers joined the platform.

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