World Met Day: Partnering with national meteorological services to support farmers in Africa

The below is an excerpt from a blog written by IRI staff members James Hansen, Alison Rose and Dannie Dinh and originally appearing on the CCAFS website.

On World Meteorological 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.

Farmers from Kayonza District, Rwanda review the training materials on climate forecast during a field visit as part of the Building Climate Services Capacity in Rwanda project. Photo: CIAT Rwanda.

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.

Read the rest of the blog here.