On World Meteorology Day, we highlight how CCAFS and partners are supporting national meteorological services in African countries to provide actionable local climate information to farmers.

The important contributions of meteorology to public safety and well-being are well recognized. Farmers need information about the timing and duration of rains to make important decisions on when to plant, what to plant, and how to plant. This is especially crucial in the face of climate variability, as changes in rainfall and temperature will have significant effects in Africa, where farmers there depend on rain-fed agriculture for their food and livelihoods.

National meteorological services (NMS) are the main source of information and expertise on weather and climate conditions and the custodians of historical data. Yet NMS are often the neglected and disadvantaged partners in the effort to help smallholder farmers adapt to a variable and changing climate. In the countries where the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) works, NMS are typically supportive of their farming populations but face serious resource constraints and competing demands from different sectors and government ministries.

Gaps in meteorological observation networks have been a major challenge to providing actionable climate information services, at a national scale. Across sub-Saharan Africa, the number of weather stations falls well below World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recommendations. Existing stations, which are concentrated in towns and on highways, are also deteriorating. Crises such as the 1994 Rwanda genocide have decimated observing networks for extended periods. It would take decades for new stations to generate robust information about the local climate.

Several opportunities available to help smallholder farmers adapt to a variable and changing climate depend on climate information. These include weather index insurance, improved methods for communicating using seasonal forecasts, matching crops and farming practices to local climate variability and trends, and crop production forecasts. These interventions have been successful at a pilot scale in locations where long-term weather records are available. But challenges such as data gaps, the cost of processing and analyzing weather station records, and capacity constraints of NMS have made the prospects for scaling up these services unrealistic—until now. 

Through the Enhancing National Climate Services (ENACTS) initiative, CCAFS works with the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) and other partners to support NMS in several African countries (Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana, Mali, Madagascar) and the AGRHYMET Regional Center in West Africa, to overcome data gaps and to provide high quality climate information. As a result, it is now feasible to provide climate information services that are actionable at the local scale of agricultural decision-making, at a national scale.

The ENACTS approach overcomes data gaps by blending NMS station data with satellite and other proxy data, to produce moderately high-resolution (roughly 4 km grid) historical gridded data (more than 30 years for rainfall, 50 years for temperature). The quality of these national data sets is substantially better than the best global data products. Access to information is improved through the development of online “Maproom” tools derived from the historic data sets, integrated into the NMS web pages. CCAFS is working with partners to expand the usefulness of ENACTS for agriculture, including reconstructing historic data on a daily time step, and expanding the suite of Maproom products to include new historical information products for agriculture and downscaled seasonal forecasts in a form that supports agricultural decision-making.

Video: ENACTS and climate services for farmers

In Mali, for example, the Joint Agro-Meteorological Services Incubator (JAMSI) is a partnership that aims to build the capacity of Mali’s national meteorological agencies and other intermediaries in interpreting, communicating and activating the use of seasonal climate information for seasonal agricultural decision making. The launch of the ENACTS initiative in Mali compliments this partnership, especially in providing capacity training and easing the implementation of the Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture (PICSA) approach developed by the University of Reading. The merged climate data and products generated through ENACTS are freely accessible via Mali Meteo’s “DATATHÈQUE”.

One year after its launch on World Meteorological Day in 2016, the Rwanda Climate Services for Agriculture project, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), provides a good example of how a NMS (Meteo-Rwanda) can work with agricultural institutions to provide actionable climate services. With CCAFS and IRI support, Meteo-Rwanda is developing a rich set of online Maproom products. The project is training agricultural extension staff and volunteer farmer promoters to use the PICSA approach to deliver relevant climate information to rural communities to help farmers make informed decisions.

In the first season of the four-year project, trained intermediaries from four pilot districts trained 2559 farmers (48% female) in the PICSA process, who in turn shared the information with an estimated 30,000 farmers. In the coming months, ENACTS and PICSA will be integrated, as trained intermediaries will access the graphical climate information that they bring to farming communities through Meteo-Rwanda’s Agriculture and Food Security Maprooms. Through the use of gridded data and online Maprooms, training personnel within the country’s innovative agricultural extension system, and attention to institutional capacity and governance, the project aims to benefit nearly one million farmers by 2019, and transform Rwanda’s farming population and national economy through climate services and improved climate risk management.

Further readings:

James Hansen is the Senior Research Scientist and CCAFS Flagship 2 Leader: Climate Information Services and Climate-Informed Safety Nets based at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI).

Alison Rose is the Science Officer for CCAFS Flagship 2: Climate Information Services and Climate-Informed Safety Nets based at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI).

Dannie Dinh is the Communications Officer for CCAFS Flagship on Climate Information Services and Climate-Informed Safety Nets based at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI).