Mobilizing African meteorological institutions to help smallholder farmers

Photo: A. Davis

Smallholder farmers in the developing world are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate fluctuations and weather extremes. Although farming communities have a natural ability to adapt to varying climatic conditions, worsening, more erratic weather makes decision-making an onerous task for farmers.

Tailor-made climate information and advisory services could help farmers make appropriate decisions. But in Africa this means addressing several gaps. CCAFS scientists are working to close these gaps. They are improving data, designing farmer-friendly information products and services, and finding effective ways to deliver them. They are modelling the impacts of climate changes and weather conditions on agricultural and biological systems, channelling their findings to policy makers and strengthening national meteorological capacities.

Under CCAFS leadership, researchers are tapping into farmers’ memories of past variability in rainfall. Farmers’ experiences help researchers map the probability of future rainfall, which, in turn, helps farmers understand how seasonal forecasts can help them. In pilot projects in Kenya, Senegal and Tanzania farmers are already making decisions about planting and harvesting based on seasonal forecasts.

Efforts underway to expand these techniques to other countries in East Africa, will bring climate services to millions of farmers

Working with national meteorological services in Ethiopia and Tanzania, CCAFS researchers have improved data and made forecasts available online. Efforts underway to expand these techniques to other countries in East Africa will bring climate services to millions of farmers.

“Before, our rainy seasons were longer. We were able to predict weather and seasonal changes by observing animal behaviour in their natural habitats … With habitat loss and biodiversity decline, we have simply lost some valuable climate pattern indicators, this is where we can benefit from climate service expertise.” Paul Thiaw, Senegalese farmer

Madagascar, Ethiopia, Tanzania and AGRHYMET (the Sahelian Regional Training Centre for Agro-meteorology and Hydrology) now produce and disseminate historical climate information. Tanzania, Ethiopia, Malawi and Lesotho, armed with a better understanding of farmers’ needs, are also changing their approaches and activities in weather forecasting.

Mobile phone messages and rural radio stations provide farmers with timely forecasts. CCAFS also links national meteorological services with organizations on the ground that work with farmers and have the technical capabilities to help them interpret and use forecasts.

Senegal’s farmers get a boost from forecasts

Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)

Vital seasonal rainfall forecasts combining indigenous and scientific knowledge reach around two million people across Senegal. The forecasts are helping smallholder farmers make better decisions.

CCAFS worked with the national meteorological agency to provide accurate and locally specific seasonal rainfall forecasts for farmers. A multidisciplinary team of agricultural extension workers ensures that the information is farmer-friendly and meets their needs. A participatory approach caters for both male and female farmers.

“Building trust was very important in order that farmers would use the information that we were providing. We built trust by trying to connect our climate information to things that are well known to farmers, using indigenous knowledge of weather patterns and introducing farmers to scientific probability methods of forecasting to build a consensus forecast.” Ousmane Ndiaye, Head of Climate and Society, Senegal National Meteorological Agency

The Union des Radios Associatives et Communautaires du Sénégal (URAC), an association of 70 community-based radio stations is an important partner broadcasting forecasts. The Union’s reach extends across all of Senegal’s 14 administrative regions and it operates in all local languages, giving it significant potential to transform lives through reliable information. Downscaled seasonal forecasts and 10-day forecasts across the rainy season are now transmitted as a special radio program in the four administrative regions of Kaffrine, Thies, Diourbel and Louga.


In Senegal,
forecasts now reach around two million farmers via community-based radio.