By Portia Adade Williams, CSIR-STEPRI, Ghana, 20/20 Adaptation Professional’s Programme Fellow, Accra-Ghana

Application and acceptance into the 20/20 Adaptation Professionals Programme

My acceptance into the Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA) and ARUA Centre of Excellence in Climate and Development (ARUA-CD) 20/20 Adaptation Professional’s Programme was greeted with much excitement but surprise. This arose because I had to develop a novel research proposal in climate adaptation and policy within a very short time since I saw the call for application rather late. However, experience of working on adaptation assessment of smallholder farmers in Ghana for my PhD, exposed how despite growth of national adaptation programmes and strategies, there are still limited examples of opportunities to effectively implement practices. I was then motivated to explore what opportunities existed for adaptation implementation to illustrate how such opportunities could be leveraged. This led to my research title “Leveraging on knowledge – policy interface to enhance climate adaptation actions: What are the barriers and opportunities in Ghana”? Subsequently, with much amazement this was offered the opportunity into the fellowship.

Shortly after commencing the fellowship however, my GCA supervisor (Prof. Bruce Campbell) in one of our meetings informed me of an initiative by the GCA. This was the Action Track on Agriculture and Food Security with one of the focus areas being ‘Expanding access to climate informed digital agricultural advisory services for at least 100 million small-scale producers by 2030’. The World Food Program, International Research Institute for Climate and Society, and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBSCD)  have been leading this effort to develop an “Investment Blueprint for Climate Informed Digital Advisory Services”. I quickly realized the need to rethink my proposal, which I did and revised it to specifically align with the aims of the Investment Blueprint. This redirection led to my second working title “Climate-informed digital advisory services for resilient agricultural productivity: An assessment of climate information services for smallholders in Ghana”. In this regard, the research mainly aims to identify institutions and organisations investing in farmer advisory services to assess their role in building climate resilient productivity through empowering and guiding farmers in decision making on climate adaptation. This is to improve access to climate services and scaling it up. The key research question developed to be investigated comprises: “Is climate information service improving resilient agricultural productivity among smallholders”?

A sudden disruption: Impact of COVID-19 on the research and fellowship

While plans were concluded and appointment letter and Terms of Reference (ToR) on the fellowship signed, impact of COVID-19 pandemic curtailed both the ongoing research and fellowship activities. The ToR entailed a three months stay at the GCA office in Rotterdam and/or Groningen, Netherlands. This plan was halted as international travel restrictions were placed globally on countries including Ghana and the Netherlands. I had missed an opportunity for further intellectual expedition, which would have widened my professional network for opportunities to forge research collaborations. Not only that, commencement of my research was delayed. Data collection for the research was stalled for over four months after a partial lockdown in Ghana where organisations were closed.

Despite these setbacks, I managed to bounce back and innovatively conduct all my interviews virtually via Zoom calls and telephone interviews. I also expanded my professional network excellently (met other scholars within my research domain) through the engagements made during the research and my participation in weekly meetings with the “Rural well being and Food Security” group of GCA. The weekly meetings further gave me an opportunity to share and discuss my research for feedback and comments that subsequently improved my research progress.

What has been the findings so far?

Being a qualitative study, eight interviews with six institutions have been conducted to date. While the write up for the research is still ongoing, the preliminary findings show uptake of digitally-informed farmer advisory services (a form of climate information service) is dependent on factors such as information about implementation, cost, communication, use and impact of services provided. Specifically, end-user information needs are critical for uptake of climate-informed Digital Advisory Services (DAS). Government intervention is key for sustainability of digital advisory services as beneficiaries deem it costly to subscribe for such services. Gender consideration is also key for equitable access to DAS while improved resources and capacity building on use and service delivery is required for enhanced impact and results.

Presently, any conclusive answer about  the role that climate information services play in improving smallholders’ resilience and productivity has to wait  the full analysis and final write. However, zooming into one of the institutions interviewed for this study (ESOKO) whose services have positively impacted a lot of smallholders in the African Region gives a great sense of direction. ESOKO is a privately owned technology company that helps organizations to profile people, collect field data and deliver services that inform under-served communities across Africa. Together with my supervisor, a case study on ESOKO has been developed to be featured in the upcoming Investment Blueprint report of GCA. With smallholder farmers as its primary focus, ESOKO uses multiple data sources, including open government data, to guide farmers in securing bet­ter prices for their produce. This is achieved by improving accessibility to relevant information through auto­mated alerts containing agrarian, weather and econom­ic information, sent to cellphones via SMS, voice messages and call centres. Most products offered uses mobile technology.

Findings from my study have revealed that, global impact of ESOKO’s digital services has been tremendous and contributed to improving resilient agricultural productivity among smallholders. Its geographical footprint spreads across Africa with two main branches operating in Ghana and Kenya, resellers/agent institutions (also known as franchise) in Malawi, Uganda, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Tanzania and Benin and partner deployment services in South Africa, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Liberia. Impacts such as improvement of smallholders bargaining power and improved usage statistics over the past decade has occurred. This include[1]:

  • 1 134 874 individual farmers reached
  • 32 million SMS messages sent
  • 440 345 voice messages sent
  • 450 543 calls serviced in call centre
  • Improved farmers income by 10%
  • 7 million individuals profiled in social protection programmes

Next steps

It has now been six months into the GCA fellowship and but for the delays I should have been wrapping up. I anticipate working on my research for two additional months. The expected outputs on the research are a published blog post (which this article is contributing to); progress and final reports; a peer review journal article; and use of core research findings as input to support the Investment Blueprint report of the Global Commission. The expected outcomes include provision of a comparative assessment of different approaches in climate-informed farmer digital advisory services as well as inform and promote scaling up of climate farmer advisory services. As earlier noted, preparations are underway to feature part of the research findings into the forthcoming investment blueprint . Efforts are been put together to achieve all other deliverables in terms of the research outputs and outcomes stated.

[1] Esoko 2020: Company Overview – Bringing organizations and communities closer