In the "Let it rain" challenge, farmers can take to their mobile phones to predict what day the rainy season will start
By Nita Bhalla
NAIROBI, Nov 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Kenya is gamifying climate change - challenging farmers to guess the rain in a bid to reach a remote audience with agricultural advice and ensure yields stay steady as climates change.
Created by The Mediae Company, the "Let it rain" challenge launches on Feb. 1, when farmers will be free to take to their mobile phones to predict what day the rainy season will start.
Not only will winners receive a cash prize of up to 100,000 shillings ($1,000), but every entrant will gain free access to iShamba, a farmers' information service.
Shamba means "farm" in Swahili and the online service - which already has 300,000 subscribers - offers advice on everything from pests to plants.
Project coordinator Sophie Rottmann said Mediae came up with the game after working with farmers on a popular farm makeover reality show - Shamba Shape Up - which regularly draws 5 million viewers after a decade on air.
"One of the key issues is that they never know when the rains are coming and, as a result, they will plant too early or harvest too late," said Rottmann.
"So we came up with the idea of gamifying the issue to engage farmers in the conversation, and give them access to information through the iShamba service."
Climate change is taking a toll across east Africa, with erratic weather hitting Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and Ethiopia.
Since October, floods sparked by heavy rains have inundated farmland, swamped villages, destroyed infrastructure and displaced tens of thousands of people across the country.
Landslides in northwestern Kenya - triggered by unusually heavy rains - killed at least 56 people over the weekend.
Kenya was already facing increase levels of hunger prior to the floods, with more than 3 million people projected to be in crisis, according to the National Drought Management Authority.
"GAMIFYING THE WEATHER"
"Let it rain" - played through an online platform or via text - has been developed by gaming firm Usiku and will let farmers predict the date rains will start in their area.
All entrants will also be asked to give their location, size of their farm and details of their crops.
They will get targetted information as well as advice on any specific farming needs from call centre experts.
"The idea of gamifying the weather is to attract farmers with the aim of giving them access to information to improve their crop yields and manage their farms more efficiently," said Kevin Gitau, iShamba's program manager.
Boniface Akuku, head of the Kenya Agricultural Observatory Platform, a government-run meteorological forecasting tool for farmers, said about 98 percent of farmers had a phone, but many did not know how and where to access information and had limited support from government advisers.
"Extension workers are thin on the ground and often do not have the resources or ability to reach farmers many of whom are in remote areas," said Akuku.
"The farming cycle is very vulnerable. There is a demand for accurate and timely information. Farmers need information quickly - a two-week delay in planting can result in up 60 percent reduced crop yield."
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)