First computerised weather stations planned for Malawi

A Malawian maize farmer holds crops damaged by drought Copyright: WFP / W.Othman

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[LILONGWE] Malawi’s run down meteorological infrastructure will be given a major technological boost over the next three years, according to a plan launched last week by Donald Kamudonyo, director of the country’s Department of Meteorology (DoM).

The DoM’s ‘information and communication technology strategic plan’ outlines a range of upgrades intended to improve weather forecasting, principally to aid agricultural planning and disaster management. For the first time, Malawi’s weather stations will be completely automated and updated with modern computerised equipment to improve recording and monitoring of weather data.

Under the plan, the DoM will also use geographical information systems (GIS) technology to map disaster prone areas and analyse meteorological and agricultural information from them so that early warnings of extreme weather conditions can be given.

Agriculture is the mainstay of Malawi’s economy and extreme weather conditions can have a devastating impact on crop yields and rural livelihoods. According to research by the National Statistical Office, production of the country’s staple food, maize, fell by 13 per cent between the 2003 and 2004 harvests because of inadequate rainfall. Southern Malawi was especially hard hit by rainfall deficits, which resulted in a shorter growing season and crops being harvested before they had time to mature.

To avoid a repeat of such experiences, the DoM aims to deliver timely, high quality forecasts for Malawi’s farmers, who make up 90 per cent of the country’s population, and live largely in remote areas of the country.

Should drought be forecast, for example, the information will be posted promptly on the DoM website, says Gray Munthali, Malawi’s deputy director of meteorological services. The agricultural communication branch, a government department that works with farmers, will then be able access the information and relay it along with mitigation plans to farmers through its existing network of technical officers who work in rural areas.

“In such cases, farmers will be encouraged to plant drought tolerant crops, such as cassava, in anticipation of the adverse weather conditions,” Munthali told SciDev.Net.

The DoM plan will cost US$1 million to implement, and will be funded jointly by the Malawian government and international donors. According to Kamudonyo, the DoM intends to approach the European Union, the United Nations Development Programme and the Japanese International Corporation Agency with funding proposals.