Editorial: Innovations in agrometeorology

When Samuel Morse invented the telegraph in 1843, meteorologists were among the first to promote the new technology, as it allowed them to communicate weather observations over large distances in real time. Today, meteorologists continue to be at the forefront of technological innovation, using the latest ICTs to collect, analyze and communicate weather information.

Agrometeorologists, who specialize in agricultural applications of weather and climate information, are no exception. This issue of ICT Update illustrates a number of ICTs that are playing a crucial role in the agrometeorologists’ efforts to help farmers improve production, mitigate the impacts of natural hazards, and cope with climate variability and change.

The first example relates to the main objective of agro-meteorology – to provide weather information to farmers. There are still many farmers in ACP countries who have limited or no access to reliable weather forecasts to help them plan their activities. Reidner Mumbi and Kelly Sponberg report how RANET is using low-cost satellite radio technology and a network of local radio stations to broadcast weather reports to farmers in the remotest areas.

In another example of satellite technology, John Stephenson and Jim Williams describe how low-cost satellite reception systems are making real time weather and climate data more accessible to local natural resource managers. Such satellite receiver systems are getting cheaper, but the same cannot be said of the latest meteorological satellite programme of the European Space Agency and EUMETSAT. Anne Taube explains how the programme will benefit national meteorological services throughout Africa.

Pest forecasting is another important area of agrometeorology. Under the right environmental conditions, such as rainfall, wind direction and humidity, insect pest populations can explode, with devastating effects. Keith Cressman explains how the FAO’s eLocust system – a palmtop computer, GPS device and HF radio equipment that run on a car battery is being used to monitor and to provide early warning of outbreaks of desert locusts in the Sahel.

In the Caribbean, agrometeorology is above all concerned with natural hazard mitigation. Hurricanes and floods can and often do cause extensive damage to fisheries, farms, and island economies in general. Terry Ally explains how the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) is compiling a catalogue of digital hazard maps that will enable planners to assess flood risks, and small farmers to make sound business decisions.

Kees Stigter, one of the world’s leading agrometeorologists, concludes with a cautionary note. He reminds us that ICTs are extremely useful tools, but when it comes to the provision of agrometeorological services to poor farmers, the starting point should always be the technologies and adaptive strategies they have developed themselves.

13 August 2004

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