3 May 2017

Why pay for a weather forecast if it’s free online?

Did you check the weather forecast for today? Did you do it on your phone?

In Viet Nam, over 95% of farmers in Dien Bien and Ha Tinh provinces watch weather forecasts on TV. However, these forecasts are often only for a few days ahead and the information is not specific enough to be useful for making decisions about farm management.

Responding to the gap in practical agricultural weather information, and seeing the growing demand, a number of digital-services providers have created tailor-made, agro-climatic information products for farmers. The most common use short-message services and smartphone apps to share short-, medium- and longer-term weather forecasts combined with agricultural management advice and market prices. One example of this kind of app is Crop Manager, produced by the International Rice Research Institute, which provides small-scale rice, wheat and maize farmers with crop and nutrient management advice customized to farming conditions and needs.

But such services cost money to establish and run. Would farmers be willing to pay for more detailed information specific to their area? To find out, researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre conducted a survey of 400 male and female farmers in Ha Tinh province as part of the Using Information to Enhance the Adaptive Capacity of Women and Ethnic Minorities in Southeast Asia project’s Agro-climatic Information Systems component, which operates under the aegis of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. Sixty percent of the farmers said they were willing to pay for seasonal weather forecasts that included agricultural advice. But when asked how much, only half of them were prepared to pay up to USD 1 a month. Moreover, forecasts are probabilities of future weather that are subject to any number of variables that can change the outcome. When paying for a service, there might be an expectation that forecasts are accurate.

Given the increasing number of weather services provided free online, such as AccuWeather and Windytv, the researchers decided to explore why farmers would need to pay in the first place. Couldn’t they just use the free online services?

Both AccuWeather and Windytv are available in many languages, including Vietnamese. Being instantly updated, farmers can easily follow wind patterns on Windytv and estimate from the wind direction whether weather will be hot and humid (southwesterly), cold and humid (northwesterly) or hot and dry (easterly). This synoptic forecasting, as a meteorologist would call it, is easier for farmers than maps with icons of suns and clouds, as are often used on TV news forecasts.

The next question the researchers asked was how accurate were these online forecasts? To find out, they compared three online services—from the national meteorological office, AccuWeather and Windytv—to the weather actually experienced in My Loi, one of the Research Program’s ‘climate-smart’ villages.

On World Meteorological Day, 23 March 2017, the researchers published their findings in an InfoBrief, which you can read by clicking on the link.


Read more about farmers and weather forecasting




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