US non-profit organisation Precision Development (PxD) is building a free weather forecast product for smallholder farmers in Pakistan and India. The service will be launched in phases.
The idea of the project is to provide high quality weather forecast information to smallholder farmers, and help them adapt to climate variability and change. A pilot will investigate how farmers interpret and use weather information, including the cognitive and informational barriers that constrain adoption.
Smallholder farmers in Pakistan and India live with a lot of risk, leaving them vulnerable to income variability and losses. Weather uncertainty is a major source of this risk. A survey of farmers in poor, southern districts of India, for example, found that 73% of respondents had abandoned their crop at least once in the past ten years, after misjudging the onset of the monsoon.
Many innovations, like climate-resilient crop varieties, incur high distribution costs that limit their scalability. PxD is therefore exploring an alternative solution for farmers: accurate, phone-based weather forecasts.
Forecasts have a high potential for cost-effectiveness and scale. By reducing uncertainty over future conditions, they allow farmers to make better production decisions throughout the season. Long-range forecasts of conditions over one to three months can enable farmers to make more informed decisions about how much to invest or which crops to grow, while shorter-range products can be used to determine the best time to conduct activities like fertiliser application.
This can generate meaningful yield impacts. PxD’s agronomy team in India estimates that transplanting rice seedlings from the nursery to the field at the right time can generate yield increases of up to 10%, relative to transplanting too late.
Currently PxD is researching its product for weather information in Pakistan’s cotton belt. Many of the poor farmers there have experienced weather-related challenges, such as heavy rainfall and high winds. These types of weather incidents can be very costly for smallholder farmers with limited resources.
PxD Pakistan has already launched two minimum viable products (MVPs). The products were tested by roughly 2,000 wheat farmers. The first product entailed a simple 48-hour weather-only forecast delivered via SMS and robocall. The second product issued an equivalent 48-hour weather forecast, complemented by recommendations on how to adjust irrigation accordingly.
According to PxD, the weather forecast product will eventually reduce farming risks and expenses, and increase what is usually a farmer’s sole source of income – allowing for more investment into farming or money for personal expenses.