ZIMBABWE, like many sub-Saharan countries, is not immune to the impact of climate change. The recurrent droughts and the cyclone Idai that hit the Manicaland Province this year speaks of this growing threat.
If no urgent measures are put in place-with the country being an agric-based economy- climate change is likely to stall the country’s development, posing a serious risk to food security to the once bread basket of Africa.
In response to this growing threat, the government launched the National Climate Change Response Strategy in July 2014 which sought to establish specific provisions for dealing with climate change issues.
However, such efforts-seemingly underfunded and slowly paced- need to be complimented by the private sector and ordinary citizens’ effort through development of technology based start-ups.
Zimbabwe may lack a modern day weather station, but growing mobile phone use could lead to better weather monitoring and predictions ultimately benefiting farmers.
With a marginal increase in active mobile subscriptions of 1.8% from 12,134,455 to 12,354,315 in the second quarter of 2019 (Potraz), mobile phones have created an unprecedented opportunity for mass collection, aggregation and dissemination of information to benefit farmers in Zimbabwe.
According to a report by GSMA, “The cost of new technologies has been declining, opening access to innovative solutions, including those that support climate change adaptation in farming communities.
Much of this innovation has come from the private sector, where specialised weather companies are now able to create and distribute weather forecasts.”
ZIMBABWE: Overarching Issues in Agriculture and Food Security (2014 National Response Strategy)
- Develop frameworks for sustainable intensification and commercialization of agriculture at different scales across agro-ecologies.
- Strengthen capacity to generate new forms of empirical knowledge, technologies and agricultural support services that meet emerging development challenges arising from increased climate change and variability.
- Strengthen early warning systems on cropping season quality, rangelands conditions, droughts, floods, disease/pest outbreaks and wildlife movement in order to enhance farmer preparedness.
Zimbabwe is largely an agriculture based economy. Many people have their livelihoods dependent on agriculture.
According to World Food Programme, Zimbabwe is currently facing food insecurity, with more than 5 million people in need of assistance until the next harvest begins in April 2020.
In fact, weather patterns haven’t been favourable. This has resulted in poor yields, failure by farmers to plan making them even more vulnerable, changes in pest and disease epidemiology, and asset loss and damage.
Over the years, these changes in weather patterns are characterised by extreme temperatures and deficiencies in rainfall patterns, droughts and occasional cyclones.
The unreliability of information about weather patterns has always been called into question by famers. As seasons are indicating variabilities, farmers get confused whether to start ploughing or wait only to be victims of procrastination.
Farming is almost becoming a lottery where results are based on inferences and luck.
Despite this gloomy picture, the growth and reliability of mobile connectivity in Zimbabwe is an opportunity to connect a variety of objects that generate weather data.
“Smartphones can assess atmospheric conditions by measuring data points like atmospheric pressure, temperature and humidity. Analysing and processing data from millions of smartphones could lead to real-time forecasts, which in turn could be sent to smartphone users as weather alerts or forecasts” asserts the GSMA report.
Mobile network operators-Econet, NetOne and Telecel-are uniquely placed to leverage their assets and data to develop and deliver localised, tailored products that address climate unpredictability.
The GSMA report clarifies this by stating that, “Through partnerships, they can support innovative mobile solutions for climate resilience and provide comprehensive information and financial service bundles that can help farmers adapt to the effects of climate change.”
For example, “Airtel Malawi’s M’chikumbe Agri VAS, which can be accessed by dialling 212, allows farmers to access practical information about agriculture via interactive voice response (IVR) and SMS.
Farmers are required to register for one of 15 crops, which enables them to access a menu with relevant crop information, as well as Airtel Money advice, market prices and weather information.”
Mobile technology-the report state- can also be used to determine a user’s location. User location data is important for value creation because it enables highly granular services, such as hyperlocal weather forecasts.
“Mobile technology can also strengthen the delivery of digital weather index insurance services to farmers by becoming a distribution channel for micro insurance and by locating the farmer via LBS.
Mobile money can play an important role by serving as a payment channel for premiums and for claim pay outs.”
A local example is the EcoFarmer’s Weather Indexed Insurance-a company owned by Cassava Smartech-which offers compensation for maize crop failure.
MNOs (in Zimbabwe)-as the report states- can also deploy a range of delivery channels to ensure that weather advisory and other services can reach rural communities with basic handsets.
“For example, in markets with low literacy levels, IVR or outbound voice dialling (OBD) is a more accessible format to convey weather information than text-heavy SMS or Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD).”