Phone app to forecast risk of crop failure in Brazil

miércoles 24 de febrero de 2016 06:21 GYT

By Nadia Pontes

SAO JOSE DOS CAMPOS, Brazil, Feb 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - D espite years of experience, Charlei Sousa finds himself struggling to grow maize. A lack of rain took half his last crop, and he says uneven rainfall has for years become a worsening problem in his fields in Montes Claros.

"We don't know anymore how and when to grow," said Sousa, a family farmer who plants about 30 hectares (74 acres) of maize in the north of Minas Gerais state, which lies within a semi-arid region of Brazil.

Changes in weather patterns linked to climate change are challenging the traditional knowledge of family farmers in Brazil, particularly those in traditionally dry areas of nine northern states, where land is used mainly to grow subsistence amounts of maize, rice, beans and cassava.

But help may be on the way. This season, Sousa will take a new ally to the field with him: a smartphone app. Used as a sort of in-field diary, it will record what is planted and when, how much fertiliser is used, geographical data about the field, photos and other details.

A few hundreds kilometres away, in São José dos Campos, in São Paulo state, scientists receive the data in real time. The information produced by Sousa and other family farmers will feed a new system designed to monitor the risk of crop failure in Brazilian semi-arid areas.

"There is no such monitoring being done in real time, with information coming directly from the producer," said Ana Paula Cunha, a researcher at National Center for Monitoring and Early Warning of Natural Disasters (Cemaden).

The centre, together with Applied Systems Analysis and the National Institute of Science and Technology, developed the app called Agrisupport.

With the help of farmers, scientists at Cemaden say they will be able to predict up to two months in advance whether the semi-arid region faces a risk of crop failure.   Continuación...