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Our food system depends on the right information—how can we deliver?

Diego Arias's picture
Photo: CIF Action/Flickr
For most of us, watching the weather forecast on TV is an ordinary, risk-free and occasionally entertaining activity. The weatherman even makes jokes! But when your income depends on the rain or the temperature, the weather forecast is more than just an informative or entertaining diversion. Information can make or break a farmer’s prospects. Farmers get a sense of the risks they face down the road and plan their planting, harvest, use of inputs like fertilizers and pesticides, crop and livestock activities and market sales around weather reports and other information—on prices, local pests and diseases, changes in credit terms and availability, and changes in regulations, among other things.

The availability and quality of such agriculture risk information is hugely important for farmers, and the potential impact of bad information can be quite costly, leading the farmer to make wrong decisions and eventually lose revenue. Information systems that have unreliable sources and/or poor data processing protocols, produce unreliable results, no matter how complex the data processing model is. In other words, one can have “garbage in – garbage out.” Information is integral to agriculture risk management, not only in the short term to hedge against large adverse events, but also in the medium and long term to adapt to climate change and adopt climate smart agriculture practices. Climate-smart agriculture programs and agriculture risk management policies are toothless unless farmers have reliable information to implement changes on the ground.

Investing in agriculture risk information systems is a cost-effective way of making sure that farmers--and other actors along the food supply chain-- make the right decisions. But agriculture risk information systems in most countries suffer from lack of capacity and funding. Mexico, a country with an important agriculture sector, does not have information on market prices of agriculture products like maize, which is why a new Bank project aims to strengthen their capacity in this area. Mexico is not alone. Argentina solved this same problem recently with World Bank support, creating a market price information system for basic grains.

Is Poverty Seasonal?

Joao Pedro Azevedo's picture
Many countries measure poverty using annualized survey data generated on the basis of a one-time “snapshot” of household consumption. Such designs gather information for a single period of reference of 30, 15 or 7 days, collected using either a consumption diary or an interview recall approach. More frequent data collection is certainly possible, but because welfare questionnaires are very long, and it is expensive conduct multiple field visits, reporting poverty dynamics at greater frequency is rare in practice.