Farmers in Rural Maharashtra are Fighting Climate Change. With Just a Mobile Phone.


This article on using mobile technology for social good is part of the #Mobile4Good series & is made possible by Vodafone India.

A weather-based and crop-specific information system that uses phone messages and awareness campaigns has been helping farmers in rural Maharashtra become climate change resilient. This is how it works.

A farmer in Maharashtra is busy working in his field when he receives an SMS. “There are chances of heavy rainfall in your village next week” – it says. He knows exactly what he needs to do now. Wrapping up the day’s work a little early, he goes back home, talking to some other farmers on the way to make sure they too have been informed about the weather. He thinks of a plan for his crops and what he needs to do to protect them. For instance, if the crops are almost ready, he may decide to harvest early before the rains come.

Also, he covers whatever produce he has in his backyard, so that the rains can’t cause any damage.

Maharashtra farmers

AGRO-MET SMS

For him and many other farmers in the state, there will be no weather change surprises anymore. All thanks to Agro-Met — a weather-based system meant to serve farmers in rural Maharashtra according to their specific crops and the climate in their villages. Agro-Met is a part of the Climate Change Adaptation Project of Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) — an NGO established in 1993. WOTR currently operates in seven states, including Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh (MP), Rajasthan, Jharkhand, and Orissa, with multiple projects.

The effects of climate change are largely visible in the fields of farmers, who are highly vulnerable to even the slightest modification in weather patterns. According to a report prepared by WOTR, weather-related losses suffered by farmers in MP and Maharashtra in March 2014 were more than Rs. 8,300 crores. One of the reasons behind these losses is that the local weather conditions in India, especially rainfall, vary even within a kilometre. Thus, widely spaced weather stations are unable to provide relevant information to the farmers, who are left unprepared and vulnerable.

Hence, WOTR came up with a solution. What if farmers could get weather related information in advance? Moreover, what if they were armed with the knowledge to utilise this information for the benefit of their crops? And all of this, the team decided, would be done with the help of phone messages and advisories. This is how AGRO-MET works:

Weather Forecasts

Maharashtra farmers

Automated Weather Station

WOTR has installed 75 Automated Weather Stations (AWS) in different villages across Maharashtra, which record important information like rainfall, relative humidity, temperature, and wind speed. 64 of them have direct telemetry links with WOTR servers. Once the information reaches their servers, experts at WOTR forward it to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD). Based on this data, IMD then sends village specific 3-day weather forecasts to WOTR, which they forward to the farmers through SMS. In case of some urgent information like unseasonal rains, sudden temperature increase, etc., farmers are directly informed through word of mouth, announcements on loudspeakers, or phone calls to selected people.

Additionally, some young villagers are also trained to read the data directly from the automated weather stations.

Maharashtra farmers

A volunteer preparing an advisory

Their job is to collect that data every day and share the information with others by writing it on blackboards installed at different places across the villages. With this information, and with the help of awareness campaigns conducted by WOTR, villagers understand how the slightest weather changes can affect their crops and what they can do to reduce losses.

Agro Advisories

Maharashtra farmers

Agro-Advisories

Agriculture experts at WOTR also prepare agro advisories that are crop and area specific. The advisories provide farmers with specific information — like which pesticide should be used for what crop at a particular stage of growth, knowledge about managing the health of soil, quantity of fertilisers required for a particular crop, and more. These advisories are issued at least twice a week and are forwarded in the form of text messages in local languages to all the farmers. The frequency with which the advisories are issued increases during the agriculture season, so that farmers get relevant information and enough time to prepare themselves. Along with the messages, posters with all the required information are also put up in villages. For preparing these advisories, WOTR also gets help from its knowledge sharing partners – the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) and the state agricultural university, Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth.

Farmer-Specific Advisories

Maharashtra farmers

WOTR has also come up with an Automated Content Management System (ACMS) named AGRIMATE. This system has been designed in a way that it generates advisories for specific crops based on weather conditions and individual farmer needs. Since no two fields are exactly the same, farmers are provided with personal advisories as well. For this, WOTR has developed a database of all the farmers in the villages where they operate. They have collected important information like soil type, crop, size of land, fertilizers used, traditional practices employed, etc. This system will help in the development of action plans for different crops under different weather conditions.

Balasaheb Mendhe, a farmer from Mahalwadi village of Ahmadnagar district in Maharashtra, is involved in brinjal farming. Based on an SMS advisory, he used an organic fertilizer named jeevamrut, along with silicon and micronutrients. “There is 15% increase in the yield even though it has been an intensely hot summer”, he said during a WOTR feedback session.

“We promote environmental friendly practices to protect soil health, reduce cost, and increase productivity,” says Ajay Shelke, a member of WOTR. According to him, about 12,000 farmers in Maharashtra use this facility today. This system has led to an average yield increase of 26% for cereals, 28% for oil seeds and 20% for vegetables, together with cost reductions ranging from 10 to 20%.

This agro-meteorology outreach project was piloted in 2009 and is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). The system has led to some important lessons on how farmers can be made more productive and resilient to climate change. The plan now is to scale it up to the national level and help farmers all over the country.

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