Farmers in ACP countries face increasingly unpredictable weather conditions, where late rains wash away newly planted seedlings or crops are scorched in dry soil before they are ready for harvesting. To help them cope with the erratic conditions, farmers are using ICTs to stay informed with regularly updated weather forecasts to help them plan their seasonal activities, and ensure timely delivery to markets. They are also using technology to share their expertise with other producers around the world to help them deal with extreme and variable weather conditions.
In the Cook Islands, a local NGO, Te Rito Enua, worked with four rural communities to identify potential threats from the changing climate. Teams from the communities used GPS devices to record the locations of houses, farmland, water sources and other important landmarks. The project team entered the data into a geographic information system (GIS), combined with information from the government and other sources, to develop detailed maps of the resources available to the communities.
Through this participatory mapping project, the communities were able to see which areas of their land would be vulnerable to prolonged periods of unseasonal rain or drought. With a better picture of the possible dangers, the community set up committees to develop strategies to deal with the increasingly unpredictable weather and protect their most valuable resources.
Meanwhile, a team of scientists from the University of Oklahoma is trying to improve the reliability of weather information. They have developed a system to collate rainfall data in West Africa, using GIS to plot the precise locations of the rain gauge stations. The team tested the system, known as Rainwatch, in Niger, which has had wildly fluctuating rainfall patterns in the last few years.
Staff from the local meteorological service can use Rainwatch to analyse the data, and produce maps and graphs that are easy to interpret. The service can share these visual representations with researchers and government ministries, and pass them on to radio and television stations, who can broadcast the information rapidly to even very remote communities. Previously, it could take up to two weeks to make rainfall information available to the public. Meteorological services can also use the system to monitor rainfall patterns, and set up early warning mechanisms when specific areas experience very wet or dry spells.
Adaptation for all
It is especially important that farmers get information on imminent threats if they are to plan their activities effectively and get the best from their crops. For many generations, the Nganyi community, from the Kisumu region of Kenya, have used traditional methods to predict the weather and prepare for the planting and harvesting seasons. In recent years, however, they have found that their forecasts are less reliable due to increasingly erratic weather patterns.
In a pilot project with the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), the community is now working with the Kenya Meteorological Department to share information and collaborate their efforts to predict the weather for the coming seasons. The project collates the information into a database and transmits it directly to the farmers’ cell phones, giving them advance weather details to help them get the most out of their crops.
And in Zambia, the National Agricultural Information Services has refined its question-and-answer service to help farmers prepare for unseasonal weather. They have now made it easier, and faster, for their experts to deliver details via SMS to farmers, showing that even the information services have to be prepared to adapt to climate change.