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Kenya: Radio weather forecasts help farmers prepare (AlertNet)

Tea and coffee bushes grow on the hillsides around Isaac Kinyua’s home in central Kenya. They have long provided a livelihood for him and his kin.

But the hillsides are periodically hit by landslides. That’s one reason that Mr. Kinyua is now building a concrete wall on the side of his house. Why now? Because he heard a radio weather alert warning that heavy rains are expected in November and December.

Just three years ago, the area was hit by a major landslide. At the time, there was no early warning system. The landslide killed a 13-year-old girl and forced hundreds of people to leave their homes.

Now, a partnership between the Kenya Meteorological Department and community radio stations is bringing weather alerts to four parts of Kenya. The stations are operated by the Radio and Internet Communication System, or RANET. They broadcast to Kangema, Narok in the Rift Valley, Budalangi in western Kenya, and Kwale in the coastal region. These areas were chosen because of their vulnerability to flooding and drought.

In Kangema, the local station is called Kangema RANET. Josphat Kang’ethe grew up in the area and is now the officer in charge of Kangema RANET. He says people used to rely on traditional forecasting methods. These include observing the times that trees flower and shed their leaves, the snow and fog levels on Mount Kenya, and the calls of wild animals. Traditional forecasts often concentrated on long-term predictions and were not always accurate.

Kangema RANET went on air in February 2008. Today, the station features regular reports from an adjoining weather station. Mr. Kang’ethe explains: “Weather readings are taken from the automatic weather station and passed to the radio presenter on duty. The details are then relayed to the community in the local language.”

The Kangema station is part of the global RANET project. RANET was established to transmit vital weather and climate information to rural communities over radio and the internet.

Kangema RANET pulls in listeners by playing plenty of local music. When Mr. Kinyua goes shopping, he is happy to find the radio blaring in the rows of shops. But it’s the occasional weather forecasts that grab the attention of Winfred Chege, one of the stallholders in the market.

When rain is forecast for the afternoon, she prepares to cover her goods. She pulls out a plastic cover from the edge of her stall and rolls it over her fruit and vegetables. Ms. Chege then puts on a heavy sweater and waits for the rain to pass. She is grateful for the alerts.

There is a disaster management bill before the Kenyan government. If passed, the bill would establish disaster response centres all over Kenya. In the meantime, individual Kenyans feel it’s up to them to take precautions and be ready for the next disaster. Radio alerts help them to prepare.