We aim to reach 1.2 million farmers in 7 countries in West Africa by the end of 2019. We will scale our operations in Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria, and launch operations in Ivory Coast and Niger. A large percentage of these smallholders are women, responsible for key components of household production such as weeding, harvesting and processing.
Mission and Vision
Our main goal is to create and provide weather forecast that farmers find useful, and which help them improve their farming practices. We have conducted our own M&E on thousands of our farmers and found that 96% understood the content of the messages, 94% thought the messages were useful, 98% said the forecasts were useful, and 95% found that the forecasts helped them increase their yield. Moving forward we hope to both increase these numbers where possible, and enact an RCT study to measure these impacts concretely. With nearly all who use our forecasts benefitting, and the average family size across West Africa at 5.4 people, we can hope to improve the water management practices, and thus livelihood of 6.48 million people across the region.
Our innovation is two part. Firstly, Ignitia has developed a preliminary, unique weather forecasting model that is developed specifically for West Africa.While weather prediction for mid-latitude regions such as Europe and the US has made great progress over the past century, the Tropics remains a key challenge. Typical forecasting models don’t accurately account for the physical processes that determine weather in the tropics and current weather service providers lack the expertise or a tropical atmospheric model to provide effective weather intelligence to companies, organizations, and individuals operating in West Africa.Our forecasts are created through a proprietary weather model that uses algorithms that are calibrated to the tropics, resulting in forecasts that are 84% accurate (compared with the 39% accuracy of global weather models).Secondly, we then transform this high-tech product into a low-tech solution in order to reach the last-mile for our BoP customers.Delivered in partnership with a telecommunication operator, a 2-day rain forecast is sent daily by SMS. The farmer is charged for the service in micro installments from her preloaded mobile credit ($0.04/text). Partnering with mobile network provider taps into existing infrastrucutre, eliminates the need to create a unique payment method, and reduces the prohibitive savings requirements necessary for a large one-time purchase. Messages contain a written forecast for each 24-hour period. For simplicity of use, these describe three parameters: likelihood, timing, and intensity of rain. We also send seasonal and monthly forecasts for long term planning. All forecasts are specific to the subscriber’s location by an automated application that fetches the coordinates of subscribers. No training is needed to subscribe and use the service, which works with simplest handsets.
Our forecasting model is unique, and 2x as accurate as the next best forecast. Moreover, we use satellite data and a highly-automated model, allowing us to scale quickly. By providing reliable forecasts through an easily accessible channel (and capitalizing on the extensive, and growing, mobile infrastructure in the region), we're able to provide better info to more farmers than anyone else in the market. When farmers can access and rely on our forecasts, they can better manage their water use.All other weather information comes from public meteorological agencies and private meteorological companies on forecasting services in West Africa, none of whom have developed an atmospheric model with a numerical weather prediction that is focused on tropical weather in West Africa. Furthermore, scientists capable of producing an atmospheric model similar to that of Ignitia are limited in number and are typically employed within academia and research institutions. The difficulty in attracting expertise to create a similar atmospheric model provides a technological barrier to entry, allowing Ignitia to scale its business with limited competition. Because of this, the other Agricultural Extension ICT services, which aim to deliver farmers information and advice, including weather forecasts, by mobile phone, often use the global model forecasts to source their weather information. These forecasts suffer from an accuracy below 50%. Due to the lack of ground monitoring stations, even National Agencies which use global models, are unable to improve the accuracy of forecasts. So while these other initiatives successfully use mobile technology to provide farmers valuable information on best practices and market prices, the lack of reliable forecasts has diminished their capacity to harness the power of climate information that will allow farmers to improve their water management/farming practices by planning around the rain/climate change.
Planned Goals and Milestones
Our forecasts are made for the tropics, a region with nearly 3 billion people, where on average 80% of the working age population is engaged in agriculture - or around 1.5 billion people who can benefit from our service (and 12 million farmers in Ghana, our primary country, alone). With the mobile industry expanding, we can tap into the technological infrastructure that is already in place, and can reach the “last mile” without boots on the ground. Our information product is 97% automated, which makes scaling rather simple.