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Weather data to weather forecasts for Zambian farmers

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In Zambia, the Meteorological Department opens its weather and climate data by providing informative weather products to end users. For example, it publishes the 10-day crop weather bulletin.

The Crop Weather Bulletin is a 10-day (dekad) weather and climate information publication produced by the Zambia Meteorological Department (ZMD) that is used by farmers and as a tool to update the seasonal rainfall forecasts. The bulletin is shared to the public through a mailing list, it is downloadable from the ZMD website and broadcasted through community radio stations. Among the recipients on the mailing list are District Agriculture Officers and Agricultural Extension Officers in the country who distribute it to farmers in their locations.

The bulletin gives highlights of the rainfall distribution in the last 10 days, showing which stations recorded higher and lower rainfall amounts and number of rain days. It also gives a cumulative rainfall performance from the beginning of the rain season to the same dekad period under review. Thou the bulletin covers the whole country, it gives details according to regions. 

Data for the bulletin is collected from 41 manual weather stations mainly using SMS to MET head office on 1st, 11th and 21st of every month as all stations are installed with GSM phones. The publication of the bulletin is produced and shared within two days after data collection.

A 10-days weather forecast is given for each region in the country. The agro-meteorological conditions give an overview of the crop (maize) condition based on the crop stage and amount of rainfall received so far. A summary of the crop weather bulletin gives rainfall amounts and number of rain days for all stations that sent their reports for that period, cumulative amounts received since the season started, normal rainfall amounts up to that dekad and a departure from the normal. 

Currently, ZMD prefers to make a shift towards providing informative weather products like the crop bulletin to end-users rather than opening all its raw data. The reason is to ensure that the data is quality controlled. Moreover, ZMD is mandated and has the expertise to generate meteorological product and services for the sectors. 

Challenges

This service like other weather services and products are sustained through government funding to the Met Department. Users, like Agricultural Extension Officers and farmers, do not pay for services because ZMD has no legal framework to charge for its services and products. 

There is no complete user database because the bulletin is redistributed by intermediaries, who are not mapped into the user database. Furthermore, distribution of the bulletin is mainly through the internet, which many farmers in remote regions have no access to. SMS service is currently being considered as farmers have better access to mobile phone services, but it comes at a cost. Nevertheless, most farmers can get the information, as it is broadcasted on community radio stations. 

ZMD is getting feedback mainly from institutional stakeholders and this has helped improve the information and presentation of crop weather bulletin product with more visualisations. Now, there are more pictures and maps included that show details. Feedback from users of the bulletin indicates that they would like to have more information pertaining to other crops besides maize. 

The major challenge is fewer station network. Another challenge is to get all the data from the manual weather stations on time to be included in the bulletin, due to telecommunication issues. Investment capacity is required, both in technology and skills to improve the bulletin, data collection, data assimilation and numerical weather modelling. Further, the services and products require being published in local languages for a better understanding of smallholder farmers.

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