Washington, D.C. – Last week, 24 Securing Water for Food innovators participated in USAID’s first-ever Agriculture Innovation Investment Summit (AIIS) with colleagues from Powering Agriculture and Feed the Future. The Summit, designed to help bridge connections between innovators and help them gain traction within the investment community, featured TED talk-style presentations and a lively pitch competition judged by a panel of established investors in the field.
Lizzie Merrill, representing Ignitia, brought home second place and a $5,000 prize after Powering Agriculture’s innovator Surehatch, winner of the first prize and a stipend of $10,000.
Ignitia is the first forecasting system to accurately predict weather in the tropics. Until now, traditional global weather models have only been able to predict weather in the tropics with 39 percent accuracy – not good enough for a population of 3 billion people, 80 percent of whom are small-scale farmers. For these farmers, especially those in the dry climates of Sub-Saharan Africa, the slightest change in weather could result in significant losses.
The challenge is that in the mid-latitudes of the US, Europe, and other areas of the world, weather models can track large scale evolution of the weather (such as low- and high-pressure systems and frontal rain distributions) as far as seven days out. Much of the planet’s weather can be predicted this way – except for the tropics. Unlike other regions, rain in the tropics is produced by small-scale systems where convection is a driving force. These convection forces can appear without seemingly any notice to the untrained eye.
Ignitia is the first forecasting system to accurately predict weather in the tropics.
Ignitia’s founder Liisa Petrykowska began to recognize these gaps in weather predictions when she was a researcher at the University of Washington. In 2010, she decided to devote her career to solving this problem, forming a small team of scientists and NASA engineers to develop a new algorithm, tailored specifically for the tropics.
The Ignitia team developed its algorithm using GPS-specific forecasts with more than twice the accuracy of existing models. Ignitia relies not only on the strength of the algorithm, but also on human intelligence. A highly trained meteorology team makes subtle adjustments to the algorithm based on their expertise in the region.
Farmers who sign up for the weather alert service receive simple SMS messages (no smart phone required) for just 4 cents a text. The Ignitia service has already helped West African farmers in Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Nigeria, Niger, and the Ivory Coast increase their income by up to 80 percent by better planning their crops.
Take Abdul, a farmer in Ghana, for example. Ignitia’s text service warned him that his growing season would start three weeks late. If he had planted at the usual time, he would have lost his entire yield and he would have no source of income. He is one of 80,000 users who have subscribed since the service went live six months ago. The company plans to reach over 1 million farmers and to generate $6 million in revenue by 2018.
Ignitia’s innovation will reduce the need to import crops from other countries and support development of local economies. The weather forecast system has the potential to help small-scale farmers, larger agricultural producers, and other innovators in the field. Currently, the team is looking to expand their customer base with development agencies, agriculture companies and NGOs as well as their partner network within the tropics.
To learn more, contact Lizzie Merrill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Securing Water for Food
Launched in 2013, Securing Water for Food aims to increase access to innovations that help farmers produce more food with less water, enhance water storage, and improve the use of saline water and soils to produce food. Over the previous three rounds of Securing Water for Food, the program has saved over 250 million liters of water, produced more than 3,000 tons of food, and served more than 370,000 farmers and other customers in more than 25 low-resource countries.