How digital technologies help build resilience for smallholders

While discussing digital technologies during the 2019 G-STIC conference, the Digital with Purpose: Delivering a SMARTer 2030 report by the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) and Deloitte came into view.

This report proved to be quite interesting. To start with, it identifies and quantifies how digital technologies can impact several SDGs. And what’s more, it includes several exciting case studies. These illustrate how digital technologies can help build resilience against climate change.

Developing digital technologies that help reduce inequalities

One such case study discusses the WINnERs (Weather Index-based Risk Services) programme. This programme is supported by EIT ClimateKIC (the EU’s leading climate innovation initiative) and co-financed by the World Bank. The WINnERs case study is all the more impressive as it clearly demonstrates how digital technologies, when developing and deploying them with a clear commitment to the SDGs, can help reduce existing social and economic inequalities.  

Developing digital technologies that help reduce inequalities

The programme is socially innovative to the core. Its central component is a weather index-based risk service offering smallholder farmers insurance against weather and climate-driven risks.

Smallholder farmers are particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change and extreme weather conditions. According to the WINnERs programme “wheat, maize, sorghum, and millet yields are expected to fall by 8% by 2020 across Africa and South Asia. In some African countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could fall as much as by 50% and prices of key food crops could increase by 50% to 120% across Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) by as early as 2030.”

Creating more sustainable food supply chains

But as the impact of climate change and extreme weather conditions is felt worldwide and at rates much faster than anticipated, the entire food supply chain is at risk. While smallholder farmers face the greatest and most direct danger, their vulnerability also puts pressure on food manufacturers and global retailers.

Building resilience for smallholder farmers is, therefore, crucial to creating more sustainable food supply chains. That requires better integration of smallholder farmers into these supply chains and developing more refined strategies for managing farming risks.

Weather index-based insurance can be one way of achieving that. Unfortunately, the substantial basis risk and the non-existence of robust regulatory frameworks hold back the large-scale deployment of weather index-based insurance policies.

Modelling weather and climate risk exposure

This is precisely where the WINnERs programme comes in. The programme models weather and climate risk exposure using state-of-the-art digital technologies. These include specialist tools such as machine learning to collect and analyse climate data, making it possible to predict the probability of extreme weather events for areas no larger than 5km2. The predictions help smallholder farmers plan ahead to secure their crops and make it easier for them to access insurance services.

Modelling weather and climate risk exposure

State-of-the-art crop modelling technology translates the available weather data into agricultural risks, such as drought and crop yield loss. Such microscale agricultural risk predictions provide a solid foundation for the development of insurance contracts that share weather and climate risks more equitably across all actors of the food supply chain. Artificial intelligence further helps reduce the level of insurance premiums.

Systemic transformations, contributing to several SDGs

The WINnERs weather index-based insurance not just helps guarantee an income for smallholder farmers. It is also instrumental in developing regulatory environments for insurance products in developing countries.

And while this programme delivers systemic transformations in agriculture (SDG 2), it contributes to many other SDGs as well. This cross-cutting nature makes the programme a great example of what market-ready integrated technological solutions can help achieve. The report by GeSI and Deloitte is very explicit about the benefits of the WINnERs programme for several SDGs:

SDG 2: Zero hunger

Access to sufficient food is ensured throughout the year for those in vulnerable situations, reducing malnutrition and improving the sustainability of food production systems.

© Digital with Purpose: Delivering a SMARTer 2030

SDG 1: No poverty

Extreme poverty is reduced through the provision of a more stable income, acting as a social protection system and ensuring access to the essential financial services required to improve economic standing.

© Digital with Purpose: Delivering a SMARTer 2030

SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth

Imperial College London estimates the WINnERs programme will contribute 2% to Tanzanian GDP through increasing maize production. Across sub-Saharan Africa, the impact on maize yield is projected to improve GDP by 2.6%, equating to an approximate economic benefit of $62.9 billion.

© Digital with Purpose: Delivering a SMARTer 2030

Improving resilience thanks to digital technologies

The WINnERs programme supported by EIT ClimateKIC and co-financed by the World Bank is an excellent example of how digital technologies can help improve the resilience of the entire food supply chain. Its weather index-based risk service successfully encourages smallholder farmers to abandon traditional farming patterns, and plan ahead to secure their crops.

Digital technologies, including machine learning, artificial intelligence and crop modelling, facilitate microscale agricultural risk predictions. These, in turn, provide a solid foundation for developing insurance contracts that share weather and climate risks more equitably across all actors of the food supply chain.

Developing digital technologies that help reduce inequalities

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Check the author's bio

Dietrich Van der Weken

Dietrich Van der Weken

G-STIC

General Manager

Since January 2017, Dietrich Van der Weken is the General Manager of the G-STIC conferences series initiated by VITO, the prime research and technology organization in Belgium. Dietrich joined VITO in July 2009, focusing on cleantech innovation. Until December 2016, Dietrich was the Program Manager of MIP, the Environmental and Energy Technology Innovation Platform, a subsidy program that focuses on accelerating the transition to the sustainable management of energy, materials, and water. Dietrich holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics, obtained at Ghent University, Belgium.

Check the author's bio

Dietrich Van der Weken

Dietrich Van der Weken

G-STIC

General Manager

Since January 2017, Dietrich Van der Weken is the General Manager of the G-STIC conferences series initiated by VITO, the prime research and technology organization in Belgium. Dietrich joined VITO in July 2009, focusing on cleantech innovation. Until December 2016, Dietrich was the Program Manager of MIP, the Environmental and Energy Technology Innovation Platform, a subsidy program that focuses on accelerating the transition to the sustainable management of energy, materials, and water. Dietrich holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics, obtained at Ghent University, Belgium.

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