Niger: As droughts worsen, phones and radios lead the way to water (Trust)

June 19, 2017
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When Moumouni Abdoulaye and his fellow herders in western Niger used to set off on scouting missions in search of water, they feared for their livestock—and their own lives.

With the increasingly erratic droughts and floods, they have been unable to rely anymore on traditional methods of predicting the weather. Without modern climate information, they have struggled to predict where and when they might find water in the vast arid region.

Mr. Abdoulaye sits in the shade of a tree to avoid the fierce midday sun in Niger’s Tillabery region. He says, “We were living in limbo. Without knowledge, we constantly risked our lives.”

But now, locally-specific, real-time weather forecasts, provided over the radio and through mobile phones, are transforming the lives of people like Mr. Abdoulaye. And the region’s semi-nomadic people are helping to create the forecasts.

Mr. Abdoulaye says, “Now we receive daily updates about rainfall, can call other communities to ask if they have had rain, and plan our movement accordingly.”

In Niger, and across much of Africa’s Sahel region, frequent droughts have impoverished many people and made it much harder to make a living from agriculture. Experts say there is a growing and urgent need for better climate information, to ensure that farmers and pastoralists are able to cope with unpredictable rainfall and climate shocks.

A limited amount of climate data is collected and made available across Africa. A lack of weather stations means that national forecasts can be too broad to be useful at a local level. Weather information services are often not well understood or user-friendly. Also, according to experts, they are not often followed up so that people can put the information to good use.

Blane Harvey is a research associate with the Overseas Development Institute, a think tank based in London. He says that getting people to contribute their local knowledge to forecasts will result in more regionalized forecasts. He adds, “Co-participation is very powerful because people will buy into a service if they’ve had a hand in producing it.”

People are being asked to collect rainfall data. They are connected with community radio stations, who also interview farming and pastoral leaders to share real-time information. Incorporating traditional observations, such as when trees bloom and how birds behave, builds communities’ trust in the climate information.

For farmer Adamou Soumana, improved access to climate information has given his village a better understanding of the weather shocks they are encountering, and the confidence to adopt resilience-boosting strategies such as using climate-adapted seeds.

He explains, “Previously, if it rained in January, we rushed to plant our crops, thinking the rainy season [had started] … when in fact it never comes before May.”

He adds, “Now we understand climate shocks and can plan our activities in advance. We feel more resilient.”

Amadou Adamou is from the NGO, Association for the Revitalization of Livestock Breeding. He says, “Receiving and sharing the information in this way not only helps pastoralists know when and where to move; it also builds relationships and trust between people.”

Many pastoralists have mobile phones and radios powered by solar cells, which means that they can get forecasts while on the move. Good information can help pastoralists find water sources and know when to sell their animals. What is now is to connect the forecasts and other climate information to the agricultural needs of the community.

Harouna Hama Hama works for an international NGO called CARE. He says: “Getting better forecasts is one thing. But having good, solid advice about what the information means, and discussions on how to use it to become more resilient, is what people in the region really want.”

This story is based on an article from Thomson Reuters Foundation, titled, “As droughts worsen, phones and radios lead way to water for Niger’s herders.” To read the full article, go to:  http://news.trust.org/item/20170509000958-0czmy/

Photo: Herder Moumouni Abdoulaye (L) speaks at a meeting to discuss climate forecasts in Tillabery, Niger, on April 18, 2017. Credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Kieran Guilbert