Data and Farming

I am a farmer by extension. Everyone in a my family is a farmer. I will eventually become one but not yet… You can imagine what the conversation is during planting season. What is interesting though is the change of language of the years. My grandmother used to say, “I have planted. I am waiting for the rains”.  Now it has changed to, “I have planted, I am praying for the rains”. This has become the most common statement among the African farmers. Climate change has caused uncertainty in weather which has in turn affected the agriculture sector.

My grandmother knows the rain cycle in every planting season. She has been doing this all her life. What has changed though is the rain cycle. She has been learning this the hard, lose of harvest. Just like reinforcement learning,  she readjusts her planting plans whenever she has a poor harvest. However this has become a common occurrence. Uncertainty of the weather is really hurting her finances. Again its not only her, but most African farmers. Its not only the rains, that affect the crops. With change in weather also comes change in pests in our farms. There is an optimal condition that pests thrive in. With the change, new species will start being seen if there are not here. Its time we start smart farming. This is where data comes in.

Data scientists, governments, agronomists and meteorological department (MET) need to come together. This has to be done now because according to World Bank, food demand will increase by 20% in 15 years. All four have an important role. Weather data is an integral part of the solution. We need accurate weather data for us to be able to do smart farming. This is because most of the African farmers rely on rain fed farming practices.

The African governments are talking about food security, in fact in Kenya it is one of the big four agendas of the President. As part of the strategies, what would have loved to see is how the government was planning to improve the MET department. Better equipment to start of. However that was not part of the speech. For as long as we are depending on rain, we must invest in weather data. This data will also be crucial to the manufacturers. Especially those who produce farming products like fertilizers.

The data on its own is not enough. For us who are new to farming, we need the data to be turned to information and that is where the data scientists and agronomists come in. Telling a farmer that we will have Elnino this year does not help them. We need to go ahead and advise them how this will affect them. To do so, we also need to know what the farmer is growing. This data needs to be collected so that to not only deliver general information but personalized information.

For commercial farmers, they need data that shows the prices of their produce across the year. This together with weather data will help them to plan when to start planting so that they can get a profit. They also need to see the change in farm produce and services for budgeting.

As we can see its all about data and more important how we can bring together weather data and other forms of data. Lets recognize its importance and push for policies that will help us as a continent acquire accurate data.