Although Africa has 10% of the world’s freshwater resources and 12% of the world’s population, water is not evenly distributed across the continent, with an average of 86% of water withdrawals used for agriculture. According to the World Economic Forum, the main reasons for water scarcity in agriculture include evaporation due to high temperatures, inefficient storage of water reserves and irrational irrigation plans.

In South Africa, the Water Research Observatory, a project supported by the South African Water Research Commission, serves as a central repository and platform for data processing, analysis and visualisation. ”Currently, climate data is being used not only in traditional hydrological and crop models to predict and prepare for the impacts of climate change, but also in artificial intelligence applications to gain additional insights into our hydrological systems,” explains Michael van der Laan, a water researcher at the South African Agricultural Research Council. ”Having accurate and up-to-date regional weather data is crucial for the models we use for water management, for example to identify the most or least suitable place for the construction of a dam, or to locate the polluting source that then contaminates the waters of a river.”

Van der Laan explains that the WRO is currently working on a tool that can remotely detect overexploitation of groundwater and is using artificial intelligence to develop models that can predict the flow of a watercourse. ”Precision farming equipment is being used to put thousands of mini-experiments in commercial fields. With the help of weather data, forecasts and satellite imagery from Sentinel 2, farmers will have a better ability to make informed decisions about resource use, such as not using excessive amounts of fertilizer in a season where low rainfall is expected, resulting in crop yields limited by water shortages.”

Ultimately, it is clear that, in order to refine climate information services in Africa and thus be able to move from the design phase to the actual service, attention will have to continue to focus on concrete needs on the ground.

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