Technology Transfer for Climate Change

Peer-learning can help farmers improve their farms and livelihoods.

Growing up in Kenya, I was accustomed to two rainy seasons. The first, known as the long rainy season, commenced in mid-March and lasted till June. The short rainy season came next between the months of October and November.

Every year, as if scheduled, the rainy seasons would start and stop on time. This made it easy for farmers to know when to plant, when to harvest and when to send their produce to the market without having to rely on climatic information.

However, as years went by, traditional weather patterns turned on their head. The certainty that farmers had become used to disappeared. Climate change has become visible in the unpredictability of the weather. 

Tackling climatic uncertainty

According to studies conducted by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), agriculture in vast parts of the world is solely rain fed. The failure of rains and the occurrence of natural disasters such as floods and droughts can lead to crop failures, food insecurity, famine, mass migration, and negative national economic growth.

Understanding the climate and weather forecast has become crucial. Farmers have to embrace the uncertainty that and rely on climatic information to help farmers make informed decisions.

The recently concluded Global Framework for Climate Services Learning Event sought to shed light on the climatic uncertainties and what industry players are doing to control those uncertainties. The Learning Event co-hosted by Global Framework for Climate Services Adaptation Programme in Africa, the Kenya Meteorological Department and the Met Office focused on how best to disseminate and deliver climatic services to local communities on the ground.

Generating actionable climatic information

Before jumping the gun and looking into how climatic information can be disseminated in order to benefit smallholder farmers, one ought to first enquire about the sources of such information. Without access to credible and actionable climatic information from the ground, weather forecasts become worthless to farmers and other stakeholders.

We need to ensure that agencies and organizations that create weather forecasts and other related climatic information are well equipped, know how to use the equipment and can convert the data collected into reliable information.

Last year, while most meteorological departments around the world were of the opinion that the then anticipated El Nino would be the worst of its kind (surpassing the El Nino events of 1877-88, 1982-83 and 1997-98), the Kenyan and Tanzanian Meteorological Departments were of a different opinion and forecasted that although there would be higher than normal rains, nothing in the data they collected from the ground suggested that the expected rains would surpass those experienced during previous El Nino events.

The Kenya and Tanzania Meteorological departments predicted that the rains would benefit agricultural production and not harm the sector as had been reported by most international meteorological agencies. This incident highlights how important it is for data collection to occur on the ground and not to solely rely on generically generated forecasts.

Can we achieve widespread understanding?

Once it has been established that there is good climatic information, the next step is to ensure that all recipients of that information understand what it means. From the discussions generated at the Learning Event, stakeholders felt that this would be the most challenging problem to solve. There are a number of initiatives that are currently being implemented by various agencies to try and solve this problem.

For example, The World Food Programme (WFP), is piloting a community based participatory planning tool comprising a two to five-day field exercise that will bring together vulnerable communities, government extension staff and cooperating partners to train them on understanding climatic information disseminated by meteorological agencies.

Other organizations are relying on other ways such as radio shows to educate the public on climatic information and using the same radio shows to disseminate that information to them.

Although there have been a number of attempts by stakeholders to educate and disseminate climatic information to people on the ground, there is still a desperate need to achieve this on a larger scale. How can this be achieved without having to reinvent the wheel?

Impacting millions with technology

Technology in mobile telephony was identified as the most likely avenue of disseminating climatic information to a majority of farmers and other members of the public on the ground. Having meteorological departments and other agencies partner with established technology platforms such as WeFarm that already have a presence on the ground, would enable them to:

  • Communicate directly with farmers on the ground. Meteorological departments/agencies can teach farmers about climatic information and how to interpret it. They can also send farmers the latest weather forecasts. 
  • Receive information from farmers and individuals in specific areas. Farmers can make readings on climatic equipment and send that information back to the meteorological departments and agencies so that they can improve accuracy and quality of forecasts.
  • Receive reports based on farmer interactions. This would help the meteorological departments and agencies analyze the impact their information is having on farmers and other people on the ground.

The increase in climatic unpredictability as a result of climate change means that there is a greater need for reliable climatic information now – more than ever before. Technology gives us the opportunity to disseminate information quickly, increase the reliability of climatic information, and ultimately, impact millions of people’s lives.

For more information on WeFarm, please contact Dennis Odera, Africa Business Co-ordinator, on dennis@wefarm.org.

Posted 8 February 2016 | Tagged with: , ,