The remote arid and semi-arid Lands of Northern Kenya are dominated by pastoralist livestock production and are constantly threatened by prolonged droughts. Destocking, restocking and moving their herd to grazing areas are a key coping strategy for herders. Yet in times of stress, herders often find themselves selling stock at low prices. The challenge of accessing information serves is a key constraint for pastoralist communities to make informed decisions and manage risks.
A significant portion of the livestock farmers in East Africa and the greater horn of Africa are at risk due to the vicious never-ending drought, caused by climate change and climate variability. Droughts cause livestock health depletion and mortality, sell-off of livestock and reduced water and forage availability. The traditional adaptive capacity and resilience of pastoral communities are no longer tenable due to increased population pressure in combination with changing land tenure regulations. Perennial conflicts among pastoralists due to insufficient valuable resources such as water and greater incidences of diseases continue to strain livestock value chains. The pastoralists’ main assets are their livestock and any form of threat to this key asset always turns out catastrophic.
It is against this backdrop that CTA (Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation), in partnership with Amfratech Ltd, East Africa’s leasing Technology and Consulting Service Provider, and aWhere Inc., a US-based data collection and analysis company for Agricultural Intelligence, have set-up the CLI-MARK (Climate, Livestock and Markets) project.
The objective of the CLI-MARK project is to increase pastoralists’ resilience by enhancing adaptive capacity. One of its strategies is to deploy a blended weather information management system, consisting of a functional, easy-to-use Agri-weather mobile-based application (Mobile-APP) and dashboard. During the pilot phase, running between December 2018 and March 2019, 200 pastoralists from Marsabit and Isiolo Counties will receive free actionable weather advisories via SMS on a weekly basis. The service will also be available to other stakeholders within this region through the dashboard and mobile application.
Data for resilience
The CLI-MARK project addresses multiple significant information challenges across the East African livestock value chain with a primary focus on the lack of available localised and real-time ag-meteorological-driven information on forage and pasture conditions. The absence of such information affects decision making of the pastoralist community in regards to grazing (where and when and how many animals), resulting in cascading impacts on the other links in the value chain. For example, unplanned movement of animals to meet short-term cattle needs can result in long-term economic losses through unfavourable animal prices. Accessibility to vital agri-weather information enhances awareness of weather patterns in the short term and enables pro-active actionable recommendations to safeguard pastoralist livelihoods in the long term.
Amfratech has designed a cloud-based blended weather information service, which incorporates a weather dashboard, Mobile Application, and Short Message Service (SMS) subscription service for the Marsabit and Isiolo Counties in Kenya as an initial pilot phase between December 2018 and March 2019. In this design, Amfratech receives near-real-time agri-weather information from aWhere Inc. through Application Programming Interface (API) integration. This information is then analysed by experienced Agri-Climatologists and coded into a granular actionable format for the pastoralists to access via mobile phone and a computer-based web dashboard. The role of the Agri-Climatologists is to develop weather-based indicators with a view to issue early drought warning and ensure that this information reaches the stakeholders including pastoralists, County government, Insurance agencies, NGOs among others for early response. The drought early warning system is developed based on weather as primary indicator, followed by pasture, market prices and human health indicators. This agrometeorological early warning system entails acquisition of weather data (temperature, precipitation, potential evapotranspiration (PET), humidity and wind), crop/pasture information, market information and anthropometric data. The actionable messages targeting pastoralists include logistical advisories on times to deliver hay and water, need to destock, avoidance of resource-related conflicts between communities and best times to buy livestock insurance.
Cloud-based weather information system
Based on feedback from the pilot, the weather system will be further developed. The CLI-MARK team is in engagement with The Kenya National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) on this pilot and possible upscaling to other counties in Kenya. The NDMA is the agency of the Government of Kenya mandated to establish mechanisms which ensure that drought does not result in emergencies and that the impacts of climate change are sufficiently mitigated.
This service has the potential of reaching over 20 million pastoralists when rolled out to other countries in the horn of Africa that are faced with similar climate challenges, such as Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti. The weather data from aWhere can further be customised for actionable crop advisory services to farmers, in order to achieve steady crop production and further appreciate the power of agricultural intelligence.The blended weather information management system is part of a mix of strategies the CLI-MARK project employs to enhance pastoralist resilience. The project, for example, also focuses on scaling up livestock insurance and activities to boost livestock markets, trade and enterprises for women and youth.
The stakeholders can also access the same agri-weather information via the mobile application MyAnga, which is available in Google Play for android devices. MyAnga is a Swahili language connotation for “My Weather” and therefore resonates well with the pilot target group.
The local herders can also access the weather information through the SMS service using a short code to receive weekly granular agri-weather information for their locality in English, Swahili and their preferred local language (Borana/Gabra, Samburu and Rendille).