SMS services helps farmers plan

Senegal: SMS services and climate training help farmers plan

Gnilane Ndiaye is turning the soil in her rice field to prepare it for planting. She grows rice during the cold season only, on a 250-square metre plot in Djilasse, central Senegal. Mrs. Ndiaye plants after the first rains, but says it’s harder and harder to predict the right time to plant. She adds that farmers like her need more and better information about the weather: She says, “The problem is that the information is often only available to privileged agencies such as the port or the airport.”

But Senegal’s agriculture ministry is trying to change that by using radio and mobile services to make its weather forecasts more readily available to farmers.

Like almost all of Senegal’s farmland, Mrs. Ndiaye’s rice field depends on rain, and the rains have become more and more erratic. She finds what weather information she can by listening to the national radio broadcaster and the community stations in Fatick and Fimela counties. She also subscribes to a government text message service to get timely information for her specific area.

Traditionally, the rains started between mid-June and mid-July. Mrs. Ndiaye usually plants her rice just after the first heavy rainfall. But if the rains remain heavy or if she plants too soon, her field will flood and she will lose all her seeds.

She says weather information should be available to farmers across the country so they can make the best decisions for their crops. She adds, “We cannot farm without taking climate change into account.”

Bounama Dieye is a director with Senegal’s agriculture ministry, and coordinator of the ministry’s platform on climate change in agriculture and food security. He agrees that Senegalese farmers need more detailed and reliable weather information—as it’s harder than it used to be to predict the timing and intensity of the rains. He says the national civil aviation and meteorology agency prepares daily forecasts that are shared via community radio, text messages, and the internet, which more and more farmers—especially younger ones—are using.

He adds, “Mobile phones allow farmers to receive, via SMS, information about the climate—for example, short-term forecasts.”

He says that farmers can receive these messages by signing up with their local representative from the agriculture ministry. They will receive two or three text messages per week with the latest rainfall forecasts.

Mr. Dieye considers information about the weather as a farming input, as important as seeds or fertilizer. He explains, “If the farmer tills his field and has good quality seeds, poor information about the rainfall forecast will [still] cause problems.”

He says the key is for weather services to provide information quickly and directly to farmers, so they have a better idea of when the rain will come, and can make informed decisions about their farming activities.

Mr. Dieye says, “In Senegal, as in much of the Sahel, weather information is perishable.”

He adds that the nation’s economy depends on agriculture, and farmers need a rapid, reliable public weather service to help them adapt to climate change.

Last year, Mrs. Ndiaye took part in a five-day training to learn how to use climate information, along with other farmers, community leaders, and technical experts from Fatick county. Maodo Samb is head of the Fatick weather station. He says the training “aims to empower [farmers] to make better choices in terms of suitable crop varieties and careful planning according to the rainfall forecast.”

Mr. Samb adds that this cold season is expected to be fairly long in the region, lasting from mid-June until October.