Impacts of climate variability, decision-making and digital information on agricultural outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa
Climate variability poses significant threats to agricultural production, particularly for small-scale and rainfed farmers who are often the first to feel the impacts of extreme weather and are the most vulnerable to climate change. Timely information disseminated via mobile phones is one pathway to manage risk and reduce vulnerabilities to a changing climate. However, poor service coverage, technological inequities and lack of awareness about mobile phone-based services pose significant barriers to access and use of information. In my dissertation, I asked questions about the impacts of climate variability on small-scale farming systems and investigated the roles of information communications technologies (ICTs) in the diffusion of digital-based information. This dissertation focuses on small-scale agriculturalists in central Kenya and on telecommunications access in Zambia. In Chapter 2, I conducted a household survey to report on the use of mobile phones for agriculture in central Kenya. I found that while most respondents owned a mobile phone, the overall percentage of adoption of mobile phone services for agriculture is low. Leveraging farmer groups is a potential path forward in the spread of digital information. In Chapter 3, I developed an ecohydrological model and simulated rainfall to model crop water stress for maize. I highlighted nonlinearities between season rainfall and yield that led to divergent outcomes for farmers. Given the impacts of climate variability which are already being realized, there is an opportunity to disseminate real-time alerts via mobile phones. In Chapter 4, I returned to the question of access to telecommunications and applied a Gibbs point process model to the location of cell towers in Zambia. I found persistent disparities in telecommunications access between rural and urban residents and remote regions disconnected from road networks. These three studies provided key insights into the changing landscape of small-scale farming, and offered practical guidance for improving dissemination and uptake of targeted and mobile-based agro-meteorological information, services and alerts.