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FEATURE: East African climate services connect with local communities

Met departments and others are strengthening climate services in East Africa and it is having a positive impact on development, reports Bill Leathes of the Met Office, the UK’s national meteorological service.

From seaweed farmers to fishermen in Kenya and Tanzania, the users of climate information are talking to the people who produce climate information, and it is transforming climate services for the better. New services in East Africa – in part supported by Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa (WISER) – are already bolstering sustainability in the region. These initiatives, from the first phase of the WISER programme 2015-18, are living up to WISER’s mission to deliver transformational change in the quality, accessibility and use of weather and climate information services in Africa.

Increasing agricultural yields in Kenya
In Kenya, working with non-governmental organisations and radio stations to deliver weather forecasts via SMS and radio broadcasts has allowed the forecasts to reach an estimated 400,000 households across the country, allowing farmers and fishermen to plan ahead with more confidence.

The same project has ensured the forecasts themselves are as easily accessible and directly relevant to users as possible. Weekly and localised forecasts for the county level have been developed that provide more up-to-date information than the previous 10-day outlooks. The project found that farmers were much more interested in weekly forecasts than seasonal ones.

Once farmers and fishermen started to see the weekly forecasts were accurate (for example, a prediction of 90% chance of rain on a particular afternoon), they could plan ahead for the following seven days. For instance, by knowing the likelihood of rain at a particular time, farmers were able to plant crops just beforehand, giving the seeds the best chance to germinate. And forecasts of dry spells also helped farmers know when to harvest crops like maize, to avoid any spoilage caused by rain.

The weekly forecasts also matched the broadcasting schedules of the radio stations, enabling a regular item that people could listen out for.

The impact of this has been significant. Reports received in one Trans Nzoia county indicate that agricultural production for small-scale farmers has increased by 20%, thanks to the more detailed and up-to-date forecasts. Farmers were using the forecasts to tell whether it would rain in the morning, afternoon or at night. They were able to receive forecasts not just by county, but by climate zone within each county.

Warning of severe weather in Tanzania
A project in Tanzania focussed on the coastal regions produced an early warning service for severe weather. Again, engaging with stakeholders was critical to ensuring the right information was included in the forecasts and warnings, that the terminology was clear to the end users of the weather information, and that it was available through the right channels.

With radio established as the preferred dissemination channel, a training workshop in turning meteorological information into radio scripts was successfully delivered to media organisations in Tanzania. Now journalists are phrasing the information in ways that can be easily understood by listeners in coastal communities.

Improving food security in the region

Another project, Strengthening Climate Information Partnerships – East Africa, supported the development of partnerships to bring together climate information providers (such as national meteorological and hydrological services), with information users (such as organisations in the hydropower industry and the food security sector) to co-produce relevant forecast products services for the different sectors.

One of these partnerships focused on food security in the region with the resulting trial forecast service providing valuable input to an October/November 2016 drought alert, which in turn supported governments, humanitarian organisations and other partners in responding in time. This helped to prevent the worsening food security conditions from reaching famine levels, as happened during the 2010/11 drought in the region.

These stories capture some of the impacts of phase one of WISER. Phase Two, which runs from 2018-2020, promises to build on these efforts. Our work is not over yet, and I look forward to continuing to work towards developing effective and sustainable weather and climate information services that improve people’s lives.

Read the above impact stories in full here and find out more about the WISER programme here. You can also keep in touch with the latest news on the programme by signing up to our quarterly newsletter by emailing wiser@metoffice.gov.uk.

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