Incorporating Ants, Animals, and Technology for Accurate Drought Prediction

SWFF innovator Professor Muthoni Masinde grew up in a remote village in Kenya where her parents were smallholder farmers, and she witnessed first hand the struggles local farmers had in predicting the weather.

Most smallholder farmers, unlike farmers on large farms that have advanced tools to accurately predict droughts and other severe weather conditions, do not have access to high-tech prediction methods and cannot react appropriately as it relates to their crops and farms.

With each season, as community populations increase, the need for maximizing crop yields with accurate information becomes even more critical.

In one area of Kenya, when farmers saw a particular variety of mango trees with flowers, they knew that in the coming season, there would be lots of fruit and most likely less rain. Farmers knew that if at the beginning of March, animals were traveling joyously in packs that rain was coming. Farmers also watched the behavior of ants. If they walked in a straight line, rain was likely to appear in two weeks time. While this information was valuable to farmers predicting drought, it was not entirely accurate,” Professor Masinde explained.

Masinde’s ITIKI tool helps smallholder farmers reduce uncertainty and become better predictors of drought. ITIKI (Information Technology and Indigenous Knowledge with Intelligence), a drought early warning system, integrates indigenous and artificial intelligence drought forecasting through a mobile application, a web portal, and SMS service to pool weather information through a network of sensors that monitor weather conditions for smallholder farmers in Mozambique, South Africa, and Kenya.

“When we decide to roll out ITIKI in a location, we identify representatives of a village and teach them to use the app. It is pre-configured such that farmers will only see the aspect that relates to their location,” Muthoni said.

“We are looking forward to upscaling geographically – Mozambique, Kenya, and Nigeria. If my dream comes true, the app will spread all over Africa.”

Professor Masinde was recently awarded the Research and Innovation Award in 2016 from Distinguished Women in Science and continues to especially encourage women in the field of engineering computer science through her work. Her work lays a foundation for the best practices in the sector.

USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the Government of South Africa, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands have provided this innovator with funding and technical assistance. For more information, visit the Securing Water for Food website.