Tanzania: Improved weather prediction services needed to free farmers from climate change (The Guardian Limited)

| February 29, 2016

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“Farming is not a safe venture these days,” says Tito Maluku. Mr. Maluku is a 49-year-old small-scale farmer and father of five from Msowero village in the Morogoro Region of Tanzania.

He blames the unpredictable weather, saying the situation puts farmers in a tight spot, leaving them in limbo and unable to predict what will happen the next day.

The vast majority of farmers must understand rainfall in order to grow the crops that are their primary source of food and income.

Mr. Maluku recalls that, in 2014, the changing rainfall pattern in his home village made farming very difficult. February is the normal planting month for maize and other cereals in his area. He explains, “Our expectation is that when maize is planted [in] mid-February, it is going to meet enough rains that are observed in March and April. These rains end when the maize matures.”

But things were different that year. Floods swept away Mr. Maluku’s three acres of maize after massive downpours in the Uluguru Mountains.

He recalls: “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw nothing on my farm. It was a disaster to my family, as the farm used to feed us, and some of the maize harvested from this farm I sell … but after the rains I had nothing.”

Floods or prolonged droughts because of climate change have been hurting Mr. Maluku and millions of other small-scale farmers in Tanzania. Most have no access to the technologies needed to predict how much rain will fall in a particular area.

To address this issue, five African nations are piloting a project which addresses the challenges of operating weather prediction systems in Africa. The project aims to modernize countries’ capacity to provide accurate, timely, and useful forecasts of floods and droughts. The countries involved are Zambia, Senegal, Cameroon, Madagascar, and Tanzania.

Nelson Katunzi is an agricultural officer in Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation. He says the country needs better meteorological services in order to operate improved early warning systems. Mr. Katunzi adds, “The challenge I see is that those who provide information on weather forecasts don’t disseminate it to end users. But if they provide it, farmers fail to interpret it.”

Dr. Swan Osina is a Tanzanian meteorologist who agrees with Mr. Katunzi. She suggests that the information in weather forecasts needs to be simplified so that farmers, livestock keepers, and fishermen can understand and effectively use it. She says, “Our target should be the end users of the information gathered from our weather stations; the need for language to be simple should be our priority.”

Farmers across Africa are currently suffering from one of the continent’s worst droughts on record. Experts say the drought is a result of the cyclical El Niño phenomenon, exacerbated by climate change.

Mr. Maluku says, “In the past, we had our own way of detecting the rainy season, but now things have changed. No one is precisely sure of harvesting crops at the end of the season.” He continues, “I am still farming, despite the fact that I don’t know what will happen tomorrow to my farm.”

To read the full article on which this story is based, Improved hydromet services needed to free farmers from climate change traps, go to: http://www.ippmedia.com/frontend/index.php?l=89052

Photo: Tanzanian farmer with drought-affected maize. Photo Credit: Anne Wangalachi/CIMMYT