Mobile phones help Northern Ghana’s farming families beat climate change

A farmer inspects his millet crop in Ghana. By availing farmers useful climate information through mobile phones in northern Ghana, beneficiaries have witnessed increased yields. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)

Innovative partnerships enable up to 1000 farmers to access useful climate information services for improved livelihoods.

Livelihoods in the Northern part of Ghana are characterized by chronic poverty, food insecurity and environmental degradation. These continue to worsen due to the region’s vulnerability to climate change. In the quest to improve the capacity of farmers to better manage climate-related risks and build more resilient livelihoods, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) West Africa initiated a sound approach entailing climate information services. This includes designing tailored climate information services and communicating them appropriately to farmers for their farm management decision making.

A pilot was thus undertaken through collaboration with an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) company in Ghana called Esoko. This collaboration entailed making the downscaled seasonal forecast information available to farmers through mobile phones to help them adapt to climate change and variability.

Esoko Networks Ltd. (Esoko), headquartered in Kenya, is a multi-currency, multi-commodity, multi-market information system that gives farmers, traders, agribusiness, and development projects tools to collect and share market and climate information via text messaging. The Esoko platform is web-managed and enables real-time data gathering and dissemination via the internet and mobile phones. Primary users include individual farmers and traders, farmers’ associations, agribusinesses, and public sector organizations such as national agricultural ministries.

Since the inception of this pilot project in 2014, up to 1000 farmers (33% of whom are

After receiving agricultural messages... from Esoko....The yields of my two favourite crops (maize and millet) have increased." Mampong Naa, Beneficiary

women) are now accessing and applying seasonal forecast information to their farm management operations and other livelihood activities through the Esoko platform. Focusing on Doggoh and Bompari communities, residing in the CCAFS Climate-Smart Villages (CSVs) in Northern Ghana, farmers are using climate information through the Esoko platform to make critical farm decisions such as choice of crops, when to plant, and when to apply fertilizers.

Farmers with mobile phone were selected and trained by Esoko’s training team on the interpretation of the messages, navigation of their phones to identify text messages, the use of the call center (farmer helpline) and profiling of all beneficiaries. Partner organizations in this work include the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), the Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMET) who provide the content to be delivered to farmers.

Millet crop

Farmer Mampong Naa (read his testimony at the end of the post), a beneficiary of the pilot project, sun dries his harvest of millet crop. Photo: Esoko

In 2014, the majority of the farmers benefiting from this program did not have any formal education and most of the females too did not have mobile phones. So in 2015, more training time was allocated to the navigation of the mobile phone and the use of the call center, where farmers are able to call and speak with an agent in their own language. Also discussions were started between CGIAR and Esoko to provide at least 100 phones to some of the female beneficiaries. Another major lesson for Esoko was that farmers were ready all the time to listen and obey whatever they were told via their phone since they feel it is more personal to them.

An interesting observation is that women in the program do not only ask for weather information for their farms but they also ask which food to prepare for their families. For example, Tuo Zaafi, which is a popular food in the northern part of Ghana, needs sunlight to dry the milled maize in preparation for the food. Thus, some women call to check on the weather condition before deciding to prepare Tuo Zaafi or not.

Apart from daily and seasonal climate forecasts, other information including agro-advisory alerts and market price alerts are also provided, assisting farmers in crop planning and marketing of their farm produce. A recent survey among beneficiaries showed there has been consistent reduction in crop failure, with more than 90% of farmers experiencing increased farm productivity. The importance of the Esoko platform providing climate information through mobile phones is further reflected in the willingness of about 97% of farmers to pay for access to climate information.

Watch video: ESOKO/CCAFS - Documentary


Testimony from Esoko beneficiary

This testimony is a common experience among 83% of farmers involved in the pilot project. It's a translation from the local Dagaari language.

"My name is Mampong Naa and I live in Jirapa Baazu. After receiving agricultural messages on productivity based on the weather forecast for the week from Esoko through the CCAFS sponsored project, I can say that I am better today than the last two years. The yields of my two favourite crops (maize and millet) have increased and now we will have enough food in the house. I was getting only four bags of maize but now I have already shelled six bags and we are still shelling as you can see. I have never had such a harvest before. I am following all the advice from Esoko and even call them on 1900 and speak Dagaari with them."

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Blog written by Gordon Kotey Nikoi, Senior Business Advisor, Esoko, Accra, Ghana. Samuel Partey, Regional Science Officer, CCAFS-West Africa, ICRSIAT, Bamako, Mali. Robert Zougmore, Africa Program Leader, CCAFS, ICRISAT, Bamako, Mali. Editing by Vivian Atakos, Communications Specialist, CCAFS East Africa.