Ignitia

Congratulations! This Entry has been selected as a finalist.

Ignitia : Revolutionary weather algorithm taking the guess-work out of small-scale farming

Stockholm, SwedenGhana
Year Founded:
2010
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
Scaling
Budget: 
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Ignitia is the world’s first highly accurate tropical weather forecasting company. We developed an algorithm tailored for the tropics that creates GPS-specific forecasts that are twice as accurate as existing models. We send these to farmers via simple SMS so they can make better farming decisions.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if farmers could use something as simple as a weather forecast to farm more sustainability and lift themselves out of poverty?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Current global weather models fail to provide accurate forecasts for the tropics, a region with ~3 billion people, 80% of whom are small-scale farmers. Every stage of the farming cycle is dependent on the weathers, so farmers need forecasts to manage their daily/seasonal activities. The lack of forecasts is made worse due to recent changes in weather patterns, enhanced by a climate change, which negatively impact traditional farming practices.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The solution is two part. Firstly, Ignitia has developed a unique algorithm that produces GPS-specific weather forecasts that are twice as accurate as existing global models. Our algorithm takes into account the convective processes that dictate a majority of tropical weather events (that global models are not calibrated for) to produce highly accurate 2-day rain forecasts as well as monthly and seasonal predictions. Secondly, our business model allows us to reach small-scale farmers on a massive scale by using proven mobile technology. We send them a low-cost, easy to understand SMS (no smart phone required) and allow them to pay through a microcredit scheme from their existing mobile credit so that no upfront seasonal costs are necessary

Awards

2012 STING Award - Drive, 2013 Innovations Against Poverty Innovator of the Year, 2014 Ashoka Fellow, 2015 Goolgle ‘Solve for X’ moonshot, 2015 Unreasonable Institute Fellow, 2015 Mulago Fellow, 2015 Feeding the Accelerator Tech Winner @ World Expo 2015
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Of the est. 1.4 billion ha of crop land worldwide, around 80% is rainfed and accounts for ~60% of global agricultural output (FAO); Our forecasts help minimize risk and maximize yields in every stage of the farming cycle. For example, Abdul is a farmer in Ghana. We let him know that the season would start 3 weeks late. If he had planted at the traditional time, he would have lost his entire yield. Our daily 48hr rain forecasts, allows for smarter labor planning and saves money on inputs – eg. hiring equipment (which cannot be used when raining), spraying fertilizer/pesticide (which is washed away in heavy rain), or harvest/post-harvest activities (many crops needs to dry before/after harvest, and can be damaged if not stored properly).

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

During our first full commercial year we managed to get nearly 80,000 farmers subscribed. Current studies from West Africa showing that using weather forecasts to optimize farming activities can increase yields by around 30%-80% and increase income by as much as 80% depending on crop. In a study on 100 randomly located farmers using our service, the key findings were as follows (Masara N’Arziki, 2014): • 100% of the users understood the SMS forecasts they were receiving. • 92% of the farmers found the service useful in their farming practices. • 93% of the farmers used the forecast to take decisions on application of inputs. • 83% of the farmers were willing to pay for the service themselves would it not be subsidized by the farmer association. With a 97% customer retention rate, these significant impact could be scaled to ~120 million farmers in West Africa in the next years.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

We will expand in Ghana, launch in Mali, Senegal, Nigeria, Niger and Ivory Coast in the next two years, and want to expand to the rest of the tropics after that. Our low operational costs, combined with nearly 100% mobile penetration at the BoP, means that the infrastructure to deliver our forecasts is already in place (and we’ve already signed a favorable contract with a telecom partner in Mali with an LOI for 6 additional countries). One strategy is to partner with other successful agricultural projects to increase our access to farmers and magnify success rates as a value-add service.
Sustainability

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The model is low cost, scalable, and replicable across countries: the same system is used to create one hundred or one million forecasts without any significant changes in operational capacity. This keeps the service a low-cost for farmers, and our partnership with large telecoms gives farmers a micropayment option. Our current break-even point is estimated at around 100,000 subscribers, and we have secured grant funding to begin this.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

While there are many public/private meteorological agencies, and a variety of initiatives to provide farmers weather information via mobile phone, no reliable substitute service for Ignitia exists because all of these companies/services use the global forecast models, whose forecasts for the tropics are too coarse and inaccurate to be reliable or used for making daily farming decisions. Additionally, our use of SMS-based forecasts, eliminates the needs for smartphones or internet access, significantly increasing the number of farmers who have access to the service.
Team

Founding Story

Liisa began to recognize the gaps in weather predictions when she was a researcher at the U.of Washington. She observed that the weather forecasts for the tropics were extremely unreliable and instead of continuing a life of academic research, decided to solve this problem. She formed a team of 4 scientists—NASA colleagues that had been involved with her research, and over 4 years, developed a new, unique algorithm that predicts tropical weather with an 84% accuracy—a rate previously unheard of for the region. Next, Liisa and her team decided to move to a tropical country where they could better understand the local market and integrate themselves with the people who would be most affected.

Team

We maintain an advantage and growing our innovation because, in addition to singular scientific expertise, Ignitia is led by a team of managers dedicated to creating a sustainable solution to reducing world hunger and poverty.Liisa Petrykowska, Founder/CEO, has two master’s degrees in Physics and Meteorology. Andreas Vallgren, Principal Scientist, is head of R&D. He holds a PhD in Dynamic Meteorology an MSc in Meteorology, and Space Engineering.
Background
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

Ashoka

Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Founder and CEO

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

As a teenager, I was passionate about changing the school system so more pupils would appreciate school, become curious and feel engaged, by being able to influence their own situation. It started in high school with a few education reforms, among others, reconstructed school boards with students in majority. This lead to a request of joining the regional council of education same week as I turned 18 (minimum age was 18 years, responsibility of a budget of
>$100M and >50 schools), where we did some though changes, that later also paid back with more money budgeted for education. Same year, I got elected by the people into the municipality council in Sodertalje, Sweden in official elections, and reelected 4 yrs later. I believe that by setting high expectations and trust in people, you get rewarded with an organization of motivated high achievers.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

We have partnered with several NGOs and development agencies to both increase access to farmers and to test and iterate our product with customers. We are also working with several tech start-up advisors and mentors, connected to us through the Mulago Foundation, Google Solve for X, Feeding the Accelerator (World Expo Milan 2015), and the Unreasonable Institute.