App enables smallholder farmers to be community influencers and citizen scientists

April 02, 2019

When a drought-bringing El Niño hits, farmers are the first to take the brunt of the climate stress. Quickly obtaining information on the fallout is essential for development agencies, government and farmers organizations to respond efficiently. But poor connectivity and slow flows of information are an obstacle. An app tested with thousands of farmers in Colombia and Africa showed that farmers can quickly produce and share vital information when climate problems arise.

The GeoFarmer app was deployed and tested in Colombia, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda, and was developed by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in collaboration with the University of Salzburg. GeoFarmer allowed farmers to collect and share geospatial data on weather, farm conditions including soil and crop types, and monitor the adoption of techniques to make farms more productive and resilient to climate change.

Even where internet connectivity was limited, farmers produced and shared tens of thousands of data points over short periods. The findings were published this February in Computers and Electronics in Agriculture.

"An app like this gives farmers a voice and helps close the communication gap between people working in the development sector, researchers working on development technologies, and farmers," said Andrew Jarvis, a co-author and director of CIAT's Decision and Policy Analysis research area. "We're better at understanding farmers' needs and we're more responsive to emerging opportunities and unanticipated challenges."

Agriculture is one of the globe's least technologically developed sectors, and this is especially true for most of the world's half-billion smallholder farmers. Improving their precarious situation is often the target of global development agencies, but interventions sometimes fall short of desired outcomes due to the top-down nature of some recommendations. Research has shown that farmers are more likely to make decisions based on input from peers, and Internet Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as GeoFarmer show great potential to increase communication between smallholders.

"We're making farmers not only the end-beneficiary, but rather an actor in the whole development process," Jarvis said. "They're able to receive information more effectively, they are empowered by having more information, and the development project is more relevant because their preferences are being fed back much better."

Climate-smart, affordable tech

GeoFarmer was tested and deployed alongside development projects, including climate-smart villages that are part of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

In Jirapa-Lawra, a village in Northern Ghana's Guinea Savannah woodlands, the app was used to gather 60,000 data records from five blocks of surveys in a two-week period. The data was mostly collected in offline mode and uploaded into a cloud storage system when local data-collection facilitators were within range of the community's mobile network.

Farmers in Lushoto, in the Usambara Mountains in Northeastern Tanzania, used GeoFarmer as part of a citizen scientist project to test and manage climate-smart agricultural practices. One practice included the adoption of manure composting to increase productivity, reduce costs and diminish reliance on chemical fertilizers. GeoFarmer was used to monitor awareness, knowledge and use of the practice. (See figure.)

In Cauca, a department of southwestern Colombia, 1,240 farmers were surveyed using GeoFarmer's interactive voice response (IVR) calling system to gather perceptions of climate risks and other risks facing agricultural activities. The IVR system, which delivered five-question surveys that were completed in 2-3 minutes, had a lower response rate than typical face-to-face surveys but collected useful data at a far greater rate and volume at a much lower cost than traditional surveying techniques.

Maps and clouds

The GeoFarmer app transmitted data to a cloud-based storage system and was made accessible through a web-based interface. The app allowed farmers to share photos and comments related to the agricultural projects. The information was georeferenced so content could be properly contextualized with the app's map viewer.

Future iterations of GeoFarmer aim to expand beyond sharing comments and photos to include discussion, voting and rating mechanisms to help farmers determine best practice solutions to new challenges. Developers will also continue to expand the app's ease-of-use to facilitate greater technology adoption across the digital literacy divide present in some smallholder communities.

"For the next phase, we aim to integrate GeoFarmer with other mobile apps to solve the problem of missing interoperability of data collected by different actors from research, academia, non-profit, governmental institutions, and the private sector," said Anton Eitzinger, lead author and climate change scientist at CIAT. "The problem of missing interoperability of data between different ICT systems hinders the flow of data, information, and insights that would have the potential to alleviate some of the impacts from climate risks for farmers. Integrating the different ICT systems in a country would help to establish innovative monitoring systems and produce smart metrics for the supply side, and to innovate around the development of unique services for the farmer."
-end-
Funders and collaborators

This work was implemented as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) - led by CIAT - and carried out with support from CGIAR Fund Donors and through bilateral funding agreements. For details, please visit https://ccafs.cgiar.org/donors. This work was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID); and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

This study was conducted with collaborators from the University of Munich (Germany), University of Salzburg (Austria), Unversidad de San Francisco de Quito (Ecuador), and École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland).

International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.