MSI, A Tetra Tech Company, completed a performance evaluation of the SERVIR program in Kenya, which provides geospatial tools and resources for developing countries.

As part of a larger performance evaluation of SERVIR—a joint U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and NASA program that delivers satellite data, geospatial information, and tools to improve developing countries’ environmental decision-making—Tetra Tech assessed USAID and NASA’s early warning system, which was designed to reduce frost-driven crop losses in highland Kenya. The system uses satellite remote sensing to monitor ground surface temperature and other data, which is then used to forecast crop-killing frosts. These warnings can be transmitted to local farmers up to three days beforehand, giving them time to protect their crops. While models based on hypothetical scenarios are usually employed to predict if a geospatial data tool will have merit, Tetra Tech’s team initiated and conducted a rare, evidence-based approach for this project with primary research in Kenya.

Based on recommendations from MSI’s [Tetra Tech’s] evaluation of the SERVIR initiative, we incorporated theory-of-change and stakeholder mapping exercises into our service planning toolkit so that we can better understand who is using our geospatial data tools, and how they are using them.

Kevin Coffey, USAID Climate Change Program Specialist

Through the collection and analysis of highly detailed, local data on frost frequency, severity, and resulting crop damage, Tetra Tech calculated that farmers could use the early warning system to protect crops and save US$80 a year from avoided crop damage and loss. This results in significant savings for farmers and their families, which are equal to approximately a month of household food spending, or nearly a full-year of school tuition for one child.

Tetra Tech interviewed dozens of experts in the agricultural sector and used electronic tools and tablets to conduct on-the-ground surveys of more than 400 tea-farming households in three of the most frost-vulnerable regions of highland Kenya. The survey included smallholder farmers with less than one acre of land and large estate farms with thousands of acres and hundreds of employees. Based on the interview and survey data, our team also was able to assess the accessibility of warning messages for farmers and the viability of preemptive measures they could take to reduce crop loss in the short time available.

Tetra Tech’s primary research demonstrated the early warning system’s actual utility to farmers and provided evidence that additional investment is necessary to increase the tool’s accuracy and dissemination.

Findings from the SERVIR value of information study were presented at the 2017 American Evaluation Association conference in Washington, DC.