This proposal is for scaling up the practise of providing relevant anc timely weather information to smallholder farmers in Sub Saharan Africa, building on work implemented by WMO and partners in Uganda and Tanzania.
World Meteorological Organization - SwitzerlandLead applicant
Tanzania Meteorological Agency - TanzaniaInitiative partner
Uganda National Meteorological Agency - UgandaInitiative partner
Agriculture is influenced by climate variability and related changes in precipitation, temperature and sunlight. Human induced climate change has introduced a new factor into the food security equation. Over generations, farmers have developed strategies for dealing with natural climate variability. Climate change means this experience is no longer valid. There are now different thermal regimes and more frequent and severe flood and drought events. For example, increased water stress – shortages or overflows on water supplies – demand a more efficient use of water by farmers, pastoralists, forest managers and biodiversity conservationists. Better understanding and management of climate variability will help the agricultural sector cope, securing crops and increasing productivity, turning risks in opportunities. Decreasing vulnerability through more informed choice of policies, practices and technologies will, in many cases, reduce the long-term risks related to climate change.
The project’s added value is in the tailoring of climate and weather information to smallholder farmers. It builds on a Mobile Weather Alert pilot project implemented by WMO and the Uganda National Meteorological Agency (UNMA), but similar projects have also been implemented in Tanzania and Kenya. The tailored services provided through the Mobile Weather Alert project are designed to be replicable and scalable to any community and can be adapted to fit other users for whom weather information is pertinent for decision-making. The tailored information is delivered through mobile phones and other technologies. However the real innovation is not in the channel used but the contents and the possibility of enhanced interaction between users and information providers. Feedback information about the rainfall measured by the farmers using plastic rain gauges and information related to crop status, possible damages and pests are sent back to the service providers by SMS messages.
In February 2012, UNMA launched the Mobile Weather Alert pilot project in Kasese District in collaboration with Grameen Foundation and WMO. Natural climate varies strongly in the region, which produces a wide variety of crops and breeds poultry and cattle. UNMA tailored weather and climate information and relevant agricultural advisories and delivered these to farmers in Kasese through the Grameen Foundation’s Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs). The CKWs translated the information into meaningful language for the farmers. Initially, few could understand the “obscure” messages linking weather and climate with crop management. CKWs and meteorologist interacted to further tailor the messages and improve their quality. That interaction led to Roving Seminars to train farmers on the use of the information and to start a feedback process with the users. The process is also participatory for the farmers who were taught to use rain gauges and report back to UNMA.
The climate information was disseminated to farmers through 100 CKWs and sent directly to registered farmers by SMS. The number of participating farmers increased from 7,000 to 15,400 during the 10-month pilot. In the final survey conducted, 75% of the farmers interviewed said they had obtained the seasonal forecast information before planting their first crop in the season ending December 2012, while 25% did not. Of the farmers who own mobile phones, 94% reported having received the seasonal forecast information before planting. This could be attributed to the timely delivery of the seasonal information, and the awareness created during the farmer roving seminars in preparation for the seasonal forecast relay. Close to half of the interviewees reported using the information frequently while the daily weather information was most frequently used.
Nearly 90% of the rural population in Uganda depends on subsistence agriculture. Most agricultural production in Uganda is rain fed, so farmers across the country need to know what is going to happen to weather and climate. Rainfall is relatively high but varies as sea temperatures on the tropical Indian or Pacific oceans and other factors. Accurate weather forecasts and good climate estimations of seasonal rainfall are of upmost relevance. It is, therefore, important that farmers in Uganda access and use available weather and climate information for their decision-making in order to increase their resilience in changing weather and climate conditions and improve their livelihoods. Preliminary results from such projects in Mali and Ethiopia have shown increases in cereal crops yields from 10% to 80%. Similar results were seen in India related to damages avoided or crop increases when weather forecasts and alerts are distributed to farmers.
The Uganda National Meteorological Agency has trained forecasters and support staff in their offices in Kampala and Entebbe. The Agency also plans to set-up Meteorological Centres at the regional level, staffed with trained meteorologists who can have ongoing discussions with the users of the information. The WMO Severe Weather Forecasts Demonstration project provides a pool of trained experts on weather forecasts and understanding weather alerts mechanisms. A component of agrometeorology to develop specific warnings for that sector is being implemented in the participants countries: Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Tanzania is implementing a project on the southern shores of Lake Victoria targeting fishermen and farmers, using mobile phones and local radio. Agricultural officers have gotten involved, taking on the role of CKWs, so the raw information is produced by the met service staff but ”experts” tailor the information.
The main difficulty is finding a functioning business model. The final survey of the Uganda pilot found that 99% of the respondents would like the service to continue, however, only 62% said they would be willing to pay for the service. The high rates of poverty may explain the reticence of some to pay, but it means that there needs to be another financing mechanism. The most appropriate solution is for the climate and weather information to be combined with other services provided through text messages to farmers. Across Sub-Saharan Africa there are a wide range of actors providing services to farmers through mobile phones, and linking up with these to include climate information would be the most cost-effective option. For instance, weather and climate information could be added to the SMS service provided by the Kenya Seed Company giving information on what to plant, the seed range and prices.
The most significant potential environmental impact is that it will allow farmers to continue to depend on rainfed crop production. As the rains have become less predictable due to the changing climate, more and more farmers would have to irrigate their crops. This would spell disaster in view of widespread, and worsening, water scarcity in Sub-Saharan Africa as half a billion people in the region depend on farming for their livelihoods. There is a direct link between water scarcity and food insecurity, and providing climate services is one of the main solutions to allowing continued productivity of rainfed crop production in a changing climate. Adequate use of water resources driven by climate and weather information should reduce water amounts allocated to agriculture and increase yields, avoiding or reducing environmental impacts
The growth rate in mobile phone subscribers in Africa is staggering. Given the recent significant technological and analytical advances in global climate and severe weather prediction and warning systems, the potential of the combination of mobile phones and mobile technologies to strengthen weather forecast systems and access to weather and climate information is increasingly recognized. The use of mobile phones to distribute weather information can help with storm warnings and disaster prevention, but also enhance economic opportunities for tens of millions of people, with relevant information provided for fisheries and agriculture. Food security would be enhanced if weather information could be further combined with information on the market prices, crop varieties and crop inputs. WMO is looking at partnering with agencies to combine the provision of weather services with other agricultural services.
The Mobile Weather Alert projects implemented thus far have been pilots. Each has taken the lesson learnt from the previous pilots to build and improve dissemination and use. Lessons learnt are pertinent to projects in other regions, and WMO has proactively shared lessons within the project at relevant forums within the weather & climate community. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has implemented similar projects in Asia (www.wmo.int/pages/publications/bulletin_en/localizing-climate-information-services-for-agriculture_en.html). CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security also actively works in this area. WMO, FAO and CGIAR are joining forces on the further long-term implementation of such projects under the auspices of the Global Framework for Climate Services, which aims to accelerate the tailoring of climate services for users.