Farmers blend traditional and science-based forecasts

Farmers have been trained to interpret data from the Kenya Meteorological Department Copyright: Flickr/International Centre for Tropical Agriculture

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[LONDON] Kenyan farmers are adapting their farming practices to work with the weather under a scheme that blends traditional forecasting methods with science-based predictions.

Completing its first year, the Sustainable Agricultural Livelihoods Innovation Project (ALIP) based in eastern Kenya has helped farmers cope with higher temperatures, more intense rainfall, stronger winds and longer dry periods.

The early results of the three-year project, which is funded by the international charity Christian Aid and the Humanitarian Futures Project of King’s College, United Kingdom, were presented to the Planet Under Pressure conference in London, United Kingdom, this week (26–29 March).

The project began by training 12 groups of farmers to interpret data from the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD).

This article is part of our Planet Under Pressure 2012 coverage — which takes place 26–29 March 2012. To read insights from our conference team please visit our blog.

Richard Ewbank, Climate Adviser for Christian Aid, told SciDev.Net: "We faced a tight window of two or three weeks to get the science-based forecasting to the farmers before the rain in our first working season."

The scientists then asked farmers to incorporate this external data with local knowledge of predicting weather and "it successfully worked," Ewbank said.  Local approaches included noting, for example, when the acacia trees flowered.

To assess the project’s success, ALIP interviewed five different groups of farmers; 45 per cent said the new blended data was very helpful.

The farmers were able to plant earlier to take advantage of an early predicted start to the rainy season. They were also able to plant drought-tolerant crops, in response to low rainfall forecasts.

The knowledge that rainfall was likely to be low also meant farmers could take steps to prevent rainfall runoff.

In this first year, ALIP has asked farmers to combine the scientific and traditional data themselves, while their traditional methods are being studied. The scientists are currently analysing the traditional methods and aim to issue a full, blended forecast next season.

Ewbank says the project will also investigate new ways to communicate the blended forecasts to farmers, for example via mobile phones.

The project’s organisers noted that while some farmers do receive seasonal forecasts via radio and occasionally television, for many the information is of little use as the nearest weather monitoring station is some distance away — meaning it could be in an area with different rainfall patterns.

In addition, the African continent has just a fraction of the minimum number of weather monitoring stations recommended by the World Meteorological Organisation.

"Scientists and NGOs working in the climate adaptation field have to understand what people really need, not to come to them delivering complicated science and make them bored", said Andy Morse, a geographer at Liverpool University, United Kingdom.

He added that "respect, trust, building on existing links, and good communication" are key to delivering climate science to local communities, helping them adapt to change.

Link to live web streaming of the conference

For more news and analysis of the Planet Under Pressure 2012 conference click here, and also see our live blog.