Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Question and Answer Series: Innovators Utilize Highly Accurate Weather Modeling to Conserve Water

This is the third entry in a Q&A series written in collaboration with Securing Water for Food: A Grand Challenge in Development. Innovators whose designs reduce water use in farming answered questions about their efforts to transform farming methods.

This post features Ignitia, a highly accurate weather model that helps farmers to sow, fertilize and harvest at the optimum time, manage their daily activities, improve crop yields and optimize food production. Below, Lizzi Merrill, Project Manager at Ignitia, answers questions regarding the weather model. This Q&A references our previous entries surrounding Aybar Engineering's Broad Bed Furrow Maker (BBM) and Groasis Tech's Waterboxx.

1)  First tell us a bit about why you decided to create the service that you are now marketing.

Ignitia was founded by a team of meteorologists and climate researchers. We realized that there was an incredible amount of detailed satellite data around the equator, yet the weather forecasts for the region were woefully inaccurate. As scientists, this sparked our interesthere was a problem we uniquely had the tools to solve. We then moved to Ghana and spent the next several years developing and improving a weather forecasting model for the region.

Nearly every industry needs weather forecasts, and while living in West Africa, we realized the critical importance of agriculture for the region and the huge economic and social impact an innovation such as ours could have. Once we had a working model (twice as accurate as current forecasts for the region, though we are still constantly improving our accuracy), we combined with emerging market experts to ensure that we could then use these forecasts to reach the people that needed it most: small-scale farmers and their families.

2) How does the innovation contribute to water savings?

Ninety-six percent of agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa is rain-fed. Our weather forecasting model allows small-scale farmers to time their activities around rainfall, reducing risk and increasing the efficiency of inputs. Our seasonal forecasts also allow farmers to make longer-term plans, such as when and what to plant. This reduces the likelihood of planting too early, which would mean they could lose their entire yield, or harvesting too late, which would mean unexpected rains could damage crops and quality. 

3) Building a social enterprise that benefits the marketplace, your company bottom line, and the social good is gaining ground in the international development space. What advice would you give to others trying to break into social enterprises that you wish you had before you started?

Building a social enterprise is exactly like building a business. You must design your business model so that your social impacts increase as your profit does, whether that means you function as a social enterprise or a business with an NGO component, or whether you scale rapidly or grow more organically over time. You won't succeed (and therefore won't have any social impact) unless you focus on your bottom line.

Graphic: Ignitia.se. The weather modeling system uses data gathered through satellites to consistently deliver highly accurate weather predictions to individuals. 

4)  Tell us what your next steps are: How can Agrilinks community members benefit from your work and/or help advance the use of your product?

We are always open to collaborating with innovators operating in the tropics. We have found that weather forecasts and other agricultural innovations go hand-in-hand, and we can operate as a value-add for other projects and companies. This is particularly true for companies and organizations with a large ground presence already. Our tech is easily scalable, so we can plug into existing projects, provide huge benefits and increase efficacy of our partners' technology and projects with little-to-no extra expenses.  

Securing Water for Food is soon to announce its fourth global call for innovations. You can find out more and sign up for updates at www.securingwaterforfood.org/4thcall