Bloemfontein – A Free State academic has developed a drought forecasting tool to help small-scale farmers decide when to plant.Last Friday, Dr Muthoni Masinde received the top award in the category Distinguished Young Women Researchers: Research and Innovation, at the annual Women in Science Awards in Johannesburg.She is head of information technology at the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein."I am humbled and excited about the award," Masinde told News24 at her office on Wednesday."I grew up in a village and I know how small-scale farmers are suffering. Some of them don't even read the papers and they don't understand what is happening, so the tool is something easy to use and it works for them."The 42-year-old received her PhD in computer science from the University of Cape Town in 2012, where she developed the tool.Weather updates via SMS"The tool helps farmers make better decisions. There is no appropriate drought forecasting tool for these farmers and in the face of climate change, negative effects of droughts continue to worsen and affect millions of people."She wants to ensure the tool is available to small-scale farmers in South Africa and the rest of Africa, who rely mostly on their indigenous knowledge to decide how and when to plant. It is already helping farmers in KwaZulu-Natal, Mozambique, and Lesotho.Farmers receive weather updates from the research team via SMS or a specially designed mobile phone application called IKWeather. She says the tool can predict drought four years in advance, although it is still experimental, she cautions."It is possible to predict what is going to happen in four years time, but it is still an experiment."In June, a state of disaster was declared in eight provinces due to an ongoing drought. At the time, co-operative governance Minister Des van Rooyen said the drought was due to below-average rainfall, increased maximum temperatures and heat waves.