This week, mid of May 2022, we are happily announcing the good news from the WATERAPPscale and WAGRINNOVA teams that the DROP App, a Climate Information Services (CIS) embedded with soil moisture (SM) module, is ready to be tested in Tamale, Ghana. Why are we developing a CIS with an extra function to forecast SM? First, SM plays an important role in the soil-plant-atmosphere system because the plant establishment and growth are directly impacted by the soil moisture content. Second, SM forecast is still not well implemented in the currently available CISs, especially in the form of mobile apps. Therefore, a CIS app equipped with an SM module (CIS-SM) is a step forward in developing a robust CIS. In this sense, the DROP app is pioneering in providing SM forecasts up to 7 days ahead for smallholder farmers. The DROP app uses a simple bucket/water balance model to estimate the soil moisture condition (see our previous blog).
Why soil moisture information is very important for smallholder farmers in Ghana and also elsewhere in the global south? We conducted an exploratory study about the role of SM for smallholder farmers in Ghana (Sutanto et al., 2022). Our study concluded that farmers consider soil moisture conditions in the agricultural decision-making activities at every stage, e.g. for fertilizer application, sowing, land preparation, and weed control (see Fig. 1a). This information is, however, not always available or accessible for them. Many farmers in Ghana also stated that SM forecast is categorized as the critical information after precipitation (Fig. 1b) and this information will help farmers in conducting strategic and tactical decision-making in their daily farming activities. These are the main and foremost reasons we would like to develop the CIS-SM, namely DROP.
Figure 1. a) Farmers’ perception on the importance of soil moisture in farming decision-making stages and b) forecast variable needs of smallholder farmers.
The DROP app has different purposes for asking farmers to input their data between precipitation and soil moisture. For precipitation, farmers can share their local forecasts. For soil moisture, on the other hand, the farmers will share their soil moisture measurements/observations that will be used as SM initial conditions in the water balance calculation. Figure 2a shows the home/main page of the DROP app. Here, all features related to SM will be performed by clicking the SM button. Then, farmers need to fill in the type of crop and the planting date. Next, farmers are asked to fill in their SM measurements/observations by scrolling the color bar from 0% (wilting point) to 100% (field capacity) (Fig. 2b). Irrigation data is required to be filled in if farmers have a plan to irrigate their crops for the next 7 days. Last, the results of SM forecasts for 7 days ahead are presented as pie charts, showing the percentage of SM from wilting point to field capacity (Fig. 2c).
Figure 2. The DROP app interfaces (Beta version).
We would like to stress out that the DROP app is being developed using crops that are commonly planted by farmers in Ghana. This means that not all crops are available in the DROP app database at the moment. This app is also under testing in Ghana and will be adjusted later after some feedback is obtained. This must be done in order to develop an app that is tailored to farmers’ needs. The DROP app will be very useful to be used in the regions that are not influenced by saltwater intrusion (delta), high groundwater table, and swamped areas. Thus, is the SM module useful to be used in Bangladesh? We confirm that the DROP app with SM module is very useful for farmers located in the north of Bangladesh, where there is no influence from the seawater intrusion but only for crops that are available in the app database. In the future, we plan to expand the crop database and to include the salinity information in the DROP app. Kudos for the WATERAPPscale and WAGRINNOVA teams.