Rainfall forecasting app helps Indonesian farmers “Inhabitat – Green Design, Innovation, Architecture, Green Building

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New rainfall app is helping farmers on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa cope with climate change. A collaboration between the Bandung Institute of Technology, the USAID Humanitarian Aid Office and an international development nonprofit called World Neighbors is providing farmers with important data on maximizing their harvests.

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In the past, farmers at Dompu Regency have relied on natural signs and astronomical calculations to determine the best times to plant. But climate change is destroying generations of traditional knowledge, as the weather – especially precipitation – has become less predictable. Misjudging the best time to plant can lead to financial ruin. The new rainfall app, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, aims to help farmers determine the best time to plant.

Related: Climate Change Takes Havoc on Olive Harvests in Italy

In Indonesia, a regency is an administrative division within a province. Dompu Regency contains many small family farms, with corn being the main crop. The land is sloping and farmers use dryland farming techniques, which means growing crops without irrigation in places that typically receive less than 20 inches of annual rainfall. Every drop is precious.

Inhabitat spoke to Edd Wright, World Neighbors regional director for Southeast Asia, about the development and adoption of the new rain application. Wright manages Indonesia’s programs focused on climate change adaptation and sustainable agriculture.

A farmer from Dompu and his family are testing the application.

Inhabitat: Tell us a bit about the people behind the development of this app.

Wright: Dr Armi Susandi, MT. (born September 4, 1969) is an Indonesian scientist and lecturer. He is a weather and climate expert who teaches at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB). Armi Susandi is also President II of the National Council on Climate Change, a state institution created on the basis of a presidential decree with the task of coordinating policies and efforts to deal with climate change. His idea of ​​creating early warning technology for climate change-related disasters emerged in 2002 while he was studying at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Colorado, United States. Armi Susandi then obtained his doctorate in climate change from the University of Hamburg, Germany, in 2004.

Since then he has created several technologies regarding early warning of climate change related disasters, such as forest fire management system, flood early warning and early action system, management services and dynamic information for fishing, intelligent agricultural information system, intelligent information system for search and rescue, among others.

Inhabitat: What is the extent of smartphones in Dompu Regency? Do most farmers have one or do they have access to someone else’s?

Wright: According to Indonesia Baik, the possession of smartphones in Nusa Tenggara (the province where the regency of Dompu is located) reaches 45%. According to observations, young farmers in Dompu have smartphones, while older farmers generally do not. Farmers who do not have smartphones will access weather information through the smartphones of agricultural extension workers, other farmers, their children or other family members.

A paddy field managed on the basis of Rain Predictions

Inhabitat: What was the farmers’ initial reaction to the app, and how has this changed over time?

Wright: For farmers who have never applied the Precipitation Forecast (PCH), they initially doubted PCH. Many farmers have not dared to adopt PCH because they fear that if the prediction is wrong, ultimately the farmers themselves will suffer losses. However, after a process of sharing experiences with the farmers who implemented the PCH, some of these farmers finally carried out a planting trial. When this trial turned out to be good, more and more farmers followed and began to trust the tools.

For those farmers who have used the analog version of PCH (printed maps), there is no difficulty for them to implement the digital version of PCH (application). There are only technical issues such as availability of smartphones and poor signal quality.

Inhabitat: Do you have any specific stories about how farmers changed their behavior because of the information gleaned from the app?

Wright: Haji Safrudin, a farmer in Karamabura village, Dompu regency, used to use natural signs, namely the appearance of the tamarind peak to determine when the planting season is coming. “In the past, we used tamarind trees as an indicator of the onset of the rainy season,” he said. “If the leaf shoots appear, it is a sign that the rainy season is coming soon. To predict the end of the planting season, we observe the kapok tree. If the kapok starts to dry out, this is a sign not to replant.

Since the intervention of World Neighbors, Safrudin now systematically consults his smartphone to see the rain forecast before sowing. Sometimes he even deliberately did it in front of other farmers, so that they could see for themselves. Safrudin and his friends no longer see the tops of tamarind trees to start planting. But the planting time is done by looking at the PCH app on their smartphones.

Lalu Kurniadi (extension agent) Training farmers in rainfall forecasting.

Inhabitat: Can you describe a typical training session – where do they take place, how many people attend, who are the facilitators, what is happening?

Wright: Local government and community buy-in begins with the initial construction of the tools, a process that relies on collecting data on historical rainfall patterns, past hydrometeorological disasters, annual yields from several sources, including l ‘Agriculture Agency and individual village governments. Based on the previous experience, by the time the tools have been created and are ready to be released, the Agricultural Extension Agency will be fully integrated.

Regency-level workshops involving all relevant government agencies are then organized. These workshops present the tools to the authorities at the regency level and are followed by a comprehensive training program that includes a training of trainers (ToT) targeting extension agents and local partner NGOs, carried out by the Institut de technologie de Bandung and World Neighbors. This training focuses on climate change and its impact on agriculture; the importance of weather forecasting in the context of climate change; understand the results of the modeling; characteristics of digital tools for climate-smart agriculture; data sharing strategies with farmers and community organization; and the preparation of monitoring plans.

When extension agents have a perfect command of the tools, World Neighbors staff support them in disseminating new knowledge and skills to farmer groups. This happens in three stages. The first step is to create a dialogue with village chiefs on how their traditional knowledge and local wisdom is used to determine the start of the rainy season and the planting times; discuss its suitability for the actual current conditions they are experiencing, then present them with new methods of forecasting precipitation. Through this dialogue, the forces of local wisdom and new technologies are combined and accepted, rather than being seen as competing.

Once these leaders are accepted, the second phase is to share the tools with the farmer groups. These trainings focus on climate change, its impact on agriculture, the importance of learning new technologies in addition to local wisdom; and sharing of the modeling results of the monthly precipitation forecast for the next 12 months.

At the end of the training, agreements are made with the farmers who decide to commit to applying the recommendations of the modeling tools. After this initial training, the third step is to support these farmers in their application; continue to convince those who still hesitate; and monitor planting times and types of plants planted; record crop yields and compare results between adopters and non-adopters.

An unmanaged paddy field based on Rain Predictions

Inhabitat: Do you plan to expand this application program to other parts of Indonesia or other countries where you work?

Wright: Currently, this application program is implemented in five regencies in Indonesia – Dompu, Central Lombok, East Lombok, West Lombok and Nagekeo. If funding allows, we plan to expand it to four more regencies in eastern Indonesia.

+ Edd Wright, Neighbors of the World

Images via World Neighbors

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