In Ghana, a public-private partnership business model adopted by Esoko has encouraged mass subscription to climate information services through mobile phone.
The Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions of Ghana continuously witness alarming poverty rates according to the 2016 Ghana Poverty and Inequality Report. The majority of the affected people are smallholder farmers who lack access to accurate climate updates and have limited knowledge about best farming practices. To improve the capacity of farmers in managing climate related risks and building more resilient livelihoods, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) in West Africa initiated a project that would design and appropriately communicate tailored climate information services (CIS) to farmers.
Since 2011, CCAFS West Africa has been piloting interventions in Northern Ghana through a collaboration with an information and communication technology (ICT) company in Ghana called Esoko and the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMet). The interventions used the Esoko platform, which is a web-managed system that enables real-time data gathering and dissemination via the Internet and mobile phones. The application allows users to receive downscaled seasonal forecast information on their mobile phones either as voice messages, SMS or through their call centers. The forecast information includes the total rainfall, the onset and end of the rainy season, and a 10-day forecast during the rainy season. In addition to the weather forecast information, farmers receive agro-advisories that are intended to help them understand and apply the received information.
During the pilot, 1000 farmers (33% of which were females) received training in accessing and applying seasonal forecast information in their farm management operations and other livelihood activities. The services enabled farmers to use seasonal forecasts to make mixed strategic decisions, such as when to start land preparation, when to plant, what variety of crops to plant and when to apply fertilizers. Field surveys showed access to and use of climate information resulted in increased crop yields and reduced crop failure by 70%.
As a result of the trials, Esoko adopted a public-private partnership (PPP) business model proposed by CCAFS to allow the sustainable and equitable dissemination of CIS. The PPP is targeting farmers subscribing to the “Planting for Food and Jobs” (PFJ) initiative introduced by the Government of Ghana as part of its measures to improve food security and employment in the agricultural sector. The PPP includes private telecommunication companies such as Vodafone, Toto agric and aWhere and public institutions, such as the GMet services, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) and farmers.
To foster more subscriptions, Esoko and Vodafone developed a network of farmers called the “Vodafone Farmers Club” (VFC) benefiting from services in market information and climate information delivery. In the current VFC, farmers have agreed to pay US$0.20 per month to receive timely market alerts and climate information on their mobile phones. These payments are made as direct debits as farmers recharge their phones with Vodafone scratch cards. Multiple benefits including free airtime to call members of the group has increased interest in the subscription.
An impact assessment indicates that more than 300,000 farmers are now being served through the PPP from an initial 1000 farmers. This also includes farmers from the PFJ program. Interviewed farmers indicated their interest to continuously receive information about climate-smart agriculture from Esoko. With more than one million farmers expected to join the PFJ program, Esoko is at a strategic position to reduce climate-related risks and increase farm productivity. With sustainable demand for CIS and CIS delivery tailored to the needs of farmers, all parties in the PPP are expected to gain economically.