Ignitia Tropical Weather Forecasting
We send highly accurate 48-hour forecasts to small-scale farmers daily via SMS, allowing them to increase yield and reduce loss.
I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.
Ignitia Tropical Weather Forecasting
Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages and is growing its impact on a regional or global scale)
Annual budget in 2017 (USD)
Number of beneficiaries impacted so far
Headquarters location: Country
Headquarters location: City
Location(s) of impact
Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?
Changing climate is leading to rapidly decreasing resources, a root cause of hunger and poverty. This is made worse by the fact reliable forecasts don’t exist in the Tropics. Without this vital information, farmers waste valuable resources, are less efficient, and suffer low yields - a massive problem for both society and the environment. Something as simple as accurate weather forecasts can revolutionise the efficiency, and yield, of these farmers.
Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?
Our innovation-highly accurate multi-day forecasts and seasonal weather outlooks-solves this problem. Ignitia’s specially developed forecasts have shown an 84% accuracy rate, more than twice as accurate as global model forecasts that only reach 39% on average in West Africa. This is because they have been developed to take into account the physical processes that determine weather in near- equator areas. This technology holds the potential to create truly shared value as it is being made accessible to farmers in a low cost, low tech solution, through daily SMS messages (no smart phone required). Farmers receive a text with a rain forecast, allowing them to change their schedule accordingly. Examples include hiring equipment and staff, sowing on a different day, or refraining from applying expensive fertilisers. Without the need to build our own forecasting infrastructure, our project is easily replicated and scaled for tropical climates across the globe.
Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work
Close to 300,000 farmers already subscribe to our services, with only 3% subsequently unsubscribing. Tangible impacts of these SMS forecasts include increased yield and more efficient resource use. Farmers voted that Ignitia weather alerts were the “best” input a farmer could have. On average these farmers earned $480 more after using our services in a single harvest (UCBerkeley 2017). Fertiliser application and cost of labour and equipment hire is saved, planting is not done too early, and harvests can be protected if unexpected late rains occur. Deep interviews confirm increased yields from 50 to 80% and incomes at the end of the season. These can lead to long term benefits like financial security, poverty reduction, and increased spending on education and health. Our activities also provide long-term benefits in the management of environmental resources. By allowing businesses and farmers to make the best decisions regarding the weather, we can decrease wastage of key resources.
Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?
Ignitia began in 2010 as a research project through research funding and financing through family/friends. We began testing our forecasting and business model in 2013 in Ghana, had our first full commercial year in 2015 with our telco partners, and in 2016 expanded to Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Mali. We are currently cash flow positive in Ghana, and are using external financing, a mix of venture capital and grant funding for expansion and scaling in the four new countries.
Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?
We are alone in bringing localised and accurate forecasts to small scale farmers across the tropics using simple SMS. We have been able to double the accuracy of existing providers. Transferring this technology into a solution for small scale farmers has been proven to increase yields up to 80% in a single cycle, with overwhelmingly positive feedback from the farmers themselves.
Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.
Whilst undertaking research in atmospheric sciences, it dawned on me that whilst 40% of the world's population lives in the Tropics, they lack information as basic as an accurate forecast. This is made worse by the fact that 96% of sub-Saharan Africa uses rain as the single source of water for agricultural food production. This makes access to this information all the more critical. By 2020, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%, and I wanted to use my expertise to change this statistic. I moved to Ghana to monitor the effects firsthand, and so Ignitia was born.
Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?
Program Design Clarity: We are hungry to know more about what exactly your model consists of. Succinctly list a) what main activities are you doing with your beneficiaries, b) where you carry out the activities? c) how often? d) for how many hours? e) who delivers the services? and f) any other brief details
a) Every day we provide SMS weather alerts to farmers, as well as training and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) with these communities in order to ensure the largest possible impact.
b) These activities are carried out within local communities in Ghana, Nigeria and Mali, by our 24 local field staff in 2017. Forecasts are generated in Accra, Ghana before they reach the farmer through mobile phone.
c) Weather forecasts are sent out every day. Training and M&E is undertaken quarterly. Our field staff are out throughout the year with farmers.
d) Weather forecasts: 5 minutes per day for decision making of actions the beneficiary will take before heading to the field.
Training of trainers: 3 days intensive, and then a 3 day follow up.
Training of farmers, takes place on a rolling basis between February - August and carried out by locals
(over 900 people in 2017) in their villages to ensure ongoing support and availability throughout the farming
cycle. M&E is undertaken between September and January by our field staff.
e) See b)
f) We are always trying to involve our beneficiaries in every stage of the process: from conceptual stages right through to M&E.
We are interested in learning more about your initiative's broad impact on sustainable development. Please reply ONLY to the question(s) related to your above focus area.
As well as immediate cost savings, farmers see medium term benefits in increased yields and incomes at the end of the season, and fringe benefits from the increased additional income freed throughout the season. Countries such as Nigeria account over 24% of their GDP to agriculture. Over time, with an average 65% increase in yields (UC Berkeley 2017), Ignitia’s services would result in an actual increase in GDP for the country. These factors can lead to long term benefits like financial security, poverty reduction, and increased spending on education and health, as well as increasing school attendance among children, as hired help becomes more affordable (internal M&E)
Our activities also provide long-term benefits in the management of environmental resources. By allowing businesses and farmers to make the best decisions regarding the weather, we can decrease wastage of key resources such as water. We also reduce negative outcomes such as run-off, spillage and wastage due to miss-timed pesticide and fertiliser application. As a technical solution we can provide blanket assistance to any actor in the agricultural value chain, regardless of income bracket or gender. Whilst we are aware that technology cannot solve every issue surrounding development at a grass-roots level, through partnerships and community involvement we aim to make as broad an impact as possible.
Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?
Our most important stakeholders are the smallholder farmers and agribusinesses that we work with, who have shown both great desire for our services (seen through rapid subscription uptake and less than 3% dropout rate), and have relayed the importance of having access to more accurate and timely weather forecasts as it allowed them to make better decisions, increasing yields and incomes. The real value of our product for our stakeholders is the fact that it provides the information that they need to excel in their profession, whilst respecting the practices that they have honed over generations. Our service also has the capacity to affect society on a larger scale as an indirect form of poverty reduction: helping to push hundreds of thousands of farmers over the extreme poverty line. Ignitia has created a financially sustainable model, with poverty reduction built into its business strategy. This also aids anyone with an interest in the welfare of farmers, right up to end consumer
How is your initiative funded, now and over the next 5 years?
Every forecast is sold for 4 US cents per day, which adds up to about 6 dollars per rainy season. From this, 50% goes to telecommunications operators for delivering the SMS, billing and marketing the solution. It takes 17.5 months for cost recovery for the first 500,000 farmers. After this it takes 14 months for an additional 500,000 farmers and after this only 8 months per farmer. Currently, the revenues cover our internal costs, such as personnel and overheads, but not to expand the solution to new places and farmers. For scaling and testing new concepts we have used grant funds, and part of the M&E has been undertaken by universities at their own cost. In our scaling journey, there will be a continued need for expansion capital.
How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the CSV Prize?
We would pilot a new model for farmers that struggle with pre-financing of agricultural inputs, using our pre-established relationship. High demand exists for “hard to reach customer research”. By answering a few questions per week during dry season, where farming activities are next to none, we would charge FMCGs for customer research. 50% ends up on farmers’ mobile money account, with the remaining 50% paying for a season of weather forecasts. There has been no successful model to date that has actually distributed income earned on customer research. We could achieve this as we have already developed relationships with the farmers. The funds would go to support a human centric design process in developing the model and piloting the idea.
How will you leverage an investment from Nestle to expand the impact of your work?
Our forecasts have solved many of the problems that small scale farmers face, but does not address the issue that all inputs need investing upfront. Through our unique position of building valuable relationships with farmers we can leverage our model to also include pre-financing. Nestle, like other brands, produce life saving products such as vitamin enriched powdered milk for infants. ‘Hard to reach’ customer research carried out by Ignitia could allow FMCGs to better reach those in rural areas. Partnerships around cocoa would also prove fruitful for both partners, highlighting our work towards a common goal of poverty reduction and sustainability.
Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact? What’s the projected impact for the coming years? Are you planning to expand your programme into new locations? On what assumptions do you build your scale-up plans?
Ignitia are looking to both widen and deepen their impact in West Africa over 2018 and beyond, with a continued focus on Ghana and Nigeria. We have identified 3 main categories of farmers in the 18-45 age range: early adaptors with financing capability, conservative farmers sceptical of modern agricultural management methods (late adaptors), and farmers who feel that their finances cannot cover the relative luxury of a forecast (mid adaptors). Through continued expansion of our current model, early adaptors will be most attracted to our product, whilst partnerships with FMCGs will help us to reach the mid adaptor segment using suitable financing options (see question 5). Conservative farmers will eventually trust in our product as forecasts become as normal as any other input, such as seed or fertiliser. Each new region needs rapid prototyping and human centric design to test communication methods and understanding.
Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, number of full-time vs. part-time staff, board members, etc.)? How will this team evolve as your initiative grows?
Ignitia is lead by a team based in Accra, Lagos and Stockholm with 13 full time staff in office and 24 field team members. Our team can be roughly split into 4 fields: Field team (including M&E), tech, awareness creation and communications, and farmer research and recruitment. The field team will grow: moving on to new regions as we search for more local knowledge to build upon, while the office team will remain in a similar situation to the present.
Awards: What awards or honors has the initiative received?
1)Google X selected Ignitia as a Moonshot in 2015.
2)Won the Top 20 Innovations by CTA in 2015.
3)Won the Innovation Award at the world fair EXPO 2015
4)Won the Innovation of the Year in 2013 by Innovations Against Poverty
Organizational leadership: How are you influencing your field of work in the present?
Ignitia are the world’s only highly accurate and localised provider of forecasts specifically designed for the tropics. We have set a precedent in our field by creating a business model merging new scientific methods and a bottom-up development model for increased sustainability. Our representatives are regularly called upon to speak at conferences - both scientific and development based - across the world in order to spread this influence and encourage others to work in similar fields based upon our success. Our training programmes in West Africa are also encouraging farmers to embrace new methods to increase sustainability, whilst our open feedback channels give them the opportunity to help us create as large an impact as possible.
Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend the Ashoka Impact Boot camp and Creating Shared Value Prize Live Pitch Event at the World Water Forum 13-16 March 2018
Yes, I am available to attend the events on 13-16 March 2018