Against a backdrop of ominous clouds looming large over the Erasmus campus, a newly installed weather forecasting station quietly collects weather data in the middle of Tinbergen plaza.
One doesn’t need precise weather forecasting technology to predict imminent rain on a November day in Rotterdam, but in parts of Africa where rain seldom falls, accurate weather forecasts can be the difference between a plentiful harvest and hunger. Aware of this pressing issue, Erasmus alumnus Ollie Smeenk created Kukua, a startup dedicated to bringing accurate weather stations like the new one they installed on campus to farmers in rural Africa.
“While living in Tanzania, my father and I saw that farmers were having massive problems with climate change,” Smeenk told EM. “We started researching and found there was a huge lack of weather monitoring infrastructure in all of Africa.”
The reality of climate change
Farmers in rural Africa have long relied on traditional weather knowledge passed on from generation to generation to know when to plant crops. Climate change, however, has disrupted the weather patterns, and now farmers have to make critical decisions such as when to plant and harvest crops without any certainty. Lacking any data to rely on, farms that were once abundant are turning into dust.
“Farmers were running out of options in terms of what to do to mitigate climate change impact,” Smeenk said. “By setting up a network for weather monitoring, we can help these farmers who need the data most to survive seasons impacted by climate change while potentially earning revenue through commercial organizations that want such data.”
The Kukua concept
Kukua, which comes from the verb ‘to grow’ in Swahili, has the potential to close the weather information gap that currently exists in Africa. At least, that’s what the EU believes. After winning the €15,000 grand prize at the RSM I Will Awards earlier this year, Kukua received a grant from the EU to roll out a total of seventy new weather stations in Nigeria. According to Smeenk, this is just the beginning.
The next step
“Our next step is to study the thousands of farmers in Nigeria to see the way they adopt the data,” Smeenk explained. “The idea is that we raise enough funds through a network of investors to buy a lot of weather stations in one go, hire a sales team, and continue our project on a big scale to make an even bigger impact.”