By Umberto Bacchi
ROME, May 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As smartphones spread to rural areas, an initiative backed by tech giants aims to help small farmers in poor countries access data on crops, weather and soil, helping them boost production in the face of climate change, a farming group said on Monday.
Global agricultural research organisation CGIAR said it joined forces with tech firms including IBM and Amazon to analyse vast amounts of agricultural data and advise farmers on the best production methods for them.
"It's time for smallholder farmers to stop looking at the sky and praying for rain," said Andy Jarvis, a research director at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), which is part of CGIAR.
"With enough data and enough analysts we'll be able to say if the rains will be late or on-time," he said in a statement.
Small farmers who produce the bulk of food in developing countries are some of the most vulnerable to changes in climate, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
In Africa and Asia many are already affected by rising temperatures, changes in rain patterns, frequency of droughts, and rising sea levels.
CGIAR plans to help them adapt and produce more food using data analysis to provide precise recommendations on when to plant and harvest their crop or how much fertilizer or water to use as part of a six-year initiative, Jarvis said.
As more farmers get access to smartphones, text messages could be used to deliver information almost in real time, he said.
A similar method applying "big data" to agriculture piloted in Colombia in 2013 helped farmers in the Cordoba region save about $3.6 million in a year, CIAT said.
Climate change is expected to hit crop yields and make the price of food more volatile, putting poor families at greater risk of hunger, the FAO said in a 2016 report.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)