Remarks by Mission Director Mark Anthony White at the National Workshop on Climate Services in Agriculture

Monday, February 25, 2019

(As prepared for delivery)

Good morning. I am delighted and honored to be here with all of you today: representatives from the Governments of India, from academia, the private sector, registered farmers, our partner Skymet, and my colleagues at the United States Agency for International Development, ladies and gentlemen

It is a special pleasure to welcome Shri Ashok Dalwai, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Rainfed Area Authority of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, and Shri Pravesh Sharma, Adviser with FICCI's Agriculture Division.

The United States Agency for International Development is the part of the United States federal government that is primarily responsible for providing foreign aid and development assistance. We work very closely with the Government of India to reach our common development goals.

USAID has a long and successful partnership with the Government of India, and it all started with farmers. More than 70 years ago, our work together started with emergency food aid when drought decimated farmers' crops and threatened India's people with famine.

That initial support has since evolved into a strong strategic partnership that addresses some of India's most pressing development problems. And because agriculture is still so important to India, we have a special focus on it.

Over the decades, we have seen the significant role that improving agriculture can play in reducing poverty, creating jobs, and promoting growth.  Improving agricultural production and nutrition, helping people prepare for changing weather patterns, and strengthening their resilience are all central to our work at USAID.

India is prone to various kinds of hydro-meteorological and geological hazards, especially cyclones, drought, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and landslides. Changing weather patterns can make some of these worse. These hazards threaten millions of lives and can cause large-scale loss—to people, infrastructure, and the economy. A failed monsoon or unexpected changes in temperature hit farm economies particularly hard causing dramatic losses of yield

USAID's project with Skymet is working to address this last point. Information on the upcoming monsoon season, along with advance warnings of dry spells or changes in temperature can be extremely helpful to both farmers and policy makers, helping them make better crop management and agriculture policy decisions.

With Skymet, USAID is helping farmers and vulnerable agricultural communities in rural areas cope with climate variability. This might be increasing rainfall variability, heat shocks, hail storms, or sudden winds. USAID's public and private partnerships bring innovations that empower farmers to make better-informed decisions regarding their land and resources.

As you all know, reliable local or micro-level weather information is one of the best tools farmers can have to make good decisions. Unfortunately, weather data is often not readily available everywhere in India, and, even when it is, it may be poor quality.

Many farmers are still far removed from the latest technologies and guidance from reliable agencies: Krishi Vigyan Kendras or Farmer Field Schools, agricultural universities, and technical institutes. While the coverage of weather related forecasts and extension information is improving, a lot more needs to be done to make reliable information accessible to farmers in India.  

The USAID-Skymet Partnership in Climate Services for Resilient Agriculture in India is helping to bridge that huge information gap by providing reliable, local weather forecasts, and specialized agricultural advisories. The aim is to deliver reliable information fast enough for farmers to act on it.

The project uses some of the latest Indian and American technologies to deliver weather information in time to help farmers manage their risk. And one good way of managing risk is through insurance. The project is also facilitating insurance through the Government of India’s flagship agricultural insurance scheme: the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (yōj´ nah).

The notification system starts with Skymet using one of the numerical model’s run by the National Centre for Environment Prediction (NCEP) at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the U.S. The model is called Global Forecast System (GFS). This process gives them a general forecast.

To have good access to the live data, Skymet has installed 675 Automatic Weather Stations (AWS) across project locations. These send real-time local weather and crop-monitoring data from 31 districts in 9 states. Each of these weather stations is a combination of Indian and American technologies. The sensors are imported from a California-based company called Davis Instruments and the other components are assembled in India. 

By combining the general and local data, Skymet's in-house team of meteorologists and agronomists create their specialized weather forecasts and agricultural advisories. When each forecast or advisory is ready, it is transmitted by 5 Indian mobile network operators in India: Idea, Vodafone, Airtel, Reliance Jio, and BSNL. And to be sure they are really useful to farmers; the messages go out in 6 regional languages.

With that overview of the technological wizardry from the project, I'd like to highlight a few of the milestones:

The project has already successfully enrolled 68,000 farmers, of whom more than 10% are women. More than three-quarters of the project beneficiaries are small and marginal farmers. They are the most vulnerable, information-deprived and resource-constrained farmers in India.  

In 2018, nearly 12 million SMSs were sent to registered farmers. These were all weather forecasts, crop advisories, and insurance recommendations. Each registered farmer received an average of 16 SMSs and 8 voice-based messages per month. 

Skyment has also developed SkyMitra, a free Android-based app that can be downloaded by anyone to get real-time, location-specific weather information and agro-advisories in India. I encourage you to download this app and see for yourselves the usefulness of the weather and crop information shared through it.   

You will hear much more about the project's achievements and challenges during the course of the day!

I look forward to receiving the report on your lively discussions and the outcomes of the workshop.

I want to end by thanking Skymet’s founder and Managing Director, Mr. Jatin Singh and his team, whose expertise and guidance has been vital in advancing the delivery of weather-related data to farmers, even in remote locations in India.

I also congratulate the project team in finding an effective way to improve farmers' ability to mitigate risk and build resilience in the face of climate variability.

And I want to thank all of you who have come here to participate in this workshop.  I hope you are able to gain valuable insights from each other and establish new connections and new partnerships.

Thank you!

New Delhi
Issuing Country 

Last updated: January 22, 2020

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