Opinion and Analysis

Provide farmers with seasonal weather forecasts

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By Richard Ewbank

Posted  Wednesday, January 16  2013 at  18:33

Access to seasonal weather forecasts is helping small-scale farmers facing threats from extreme weather in Kenya make informed cropping decisions.

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By choosing the best seeds and planting dates for the likely conditions, farmers have attributed significant increases in their yields to the use of short and medium-term forecasts, securing their livelihoods.

Given that small-scale farmers farm 60 per cent of the world’s land and produce half the world’s food, introducing similar programmes elsewhere could go a long way to preventing hunger and reducing poverty.

After a successful exchange programme bringing humanitarian agency staff together with climate scientists in the UK, the Humanitarian Futures Programme (HFP) at King’s College, London, and Christian Aid wanted to repeat the experience at the sharp end of climate change in Kenya.

HFP used its expertise in creating cross-disciplinary networks to address climate resilience to help bring together a wide range of practitioners under the Sustainable Agricultural Livelihoods Innovations (SALI) project in the semi-arid district of Mbeere in Kenya’s Eastern Province.

The collaboration comprised staff from Christian Community Services Mount Kenya East (CCSMKE), local farmer group members, climate scientists from the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD), the UK Met Office and the University of Sussex, plus livelihoods experts from Christian Aid (which co-funds the project with the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, CDKN, and partners with CCSMKE).

For the past two rainy seasons, the specialists worked with local farmers to help them learn how best to make use of seasonal and short-term weather forecasts within their farming methods.

Ahead of each rainy season, the Greater Horn Regional Climate Outlook Forum released a seasonal forecast, while the KMD gave its Kenya-specific forecast and held training workshops at national and local levels.

After each forecast was released, there was a window of opportunity before the rains arrived to get the forecast to farmers and help increase their understanding of how to apply it to their agricultural practices.

The forecast for the first season (the 2011 short rains from October to December) was favourable, with an 80 per cent likelihood of average to above-average rainfall, while that for the subsequent long rains (2012 March to May) was the opposite.

One major contrast between seasons was the differing length of the window between receiving the forecast and the rains arriving.

Our experiences in Kenya show that providing weather forecasts and training to small-scale farmers is an effective way to help increase the resilience of vulnerable farming communities.

The writer is climate advisor to Christian Aid.