Tanzania: Pastoralists use weather information to plan livestock feeding

| January 6, 2020

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In Maiorwa village, northern Tanzania, Peter Kakanji looks to the sky searching for rainfall. He heard on the radio that it would rain. Mr. Kakanji is a pastoralist who herds 150 goats, 120 sheep, and 80 cows, but pasture is limited. When pastoralists move livestock from place to place to find pasture, they risk losing animals from diseases or because they wander off. But pastoralists in this area have been receiving weather information from Tanzania Meteorological Agency on their mobile phones and on a program broadcast by Orkonerei Radio Service. The forecasts have proven reliable, allowing pastoralists to make good decisions about where to move their animals.

Peter Kakanji is brushing his teeth, using bristles of a stick as a toothbrush. He looks to the sky for signs of imminent rainfall because he heard last night on the radio that it would rain today. He says, “The rains started early this year and it’s still raining in several parts of the country, following the same pattern as broadcast on the radio.”

Mr. Kakanji is a pastoralist who lives in Mairowa village in Longido district, about 90 kilometres north of Arusha in northern Tanzania. He herds 150 goats, 120 sheep, and 80 cows, but pasture is limited.

The risks of moving livestock from one place to another to find pasture include diseases and loss of animals. To avoid these problems, Mr. Kakanji uses weather information to help him make decisions such as when to reserve enough pasture land for his livestock.

Like other pastoralists in his area, Mr. Kakanji receives weather information from Tanzania Meteorological Agency through his mobile phone—and also from a community radio station called Orkonerei Radio Service (ORS).

Mr. Kakanji says that, compared to regular weather broadcasts, the information he receives from ORS and through WhatsApp is more comprehensive. Extension workers provide guidance on the rains and recommend good agricultural practices and advice on when to prepare fields and on the best seeds to plant.

He says, “The information also strategically advises pastoralists—especially those that live [a] nomadic life—on best practices to rotate when searching for pasture.”

According to Mr. Kakanji, the rains in the area are dwindling every year, which reduces pastures and water for livestock. The shortage of rain pushes pastoralists to move from one area to another. But by using the weather information, they are now better able to predict where to find water and pasture.

For decades, Mr. Kakanji and his family of 14 have been practising traditional grazing, travelling from place to place in order to access enough pasture land. But changes in rainfall patterns have cost him a lot as the family moves from one place to another.

Such movements usually take two or three months. At these times, herders leave the family at their permanent residence. Mr. Kakanji says that the worst thing about the movements is that they lose most cattle due to diseases, which are usually contracted in new pastures.

He says, “Tsetse fly is the biggest nightmare insect that we have not been able to fight and win.”

Fulla Yassin is the extension officer in Longido district. He says that pastoralists who have accessed weather forecast information on their mobile phones are benefitting from real-time weather updates which guide them on where and when the rains are falling. Mr. Yassin says that weather information on the radio is also helping them manage food and water for their cattle.

The radio program airs for 30 minutes on Fridays at 9:00 p.m. and is repeated on Saturdays at 6:30 p.m.

He adds: “The radio and WhatsApp messages are delivered in both Kiswahili and Maasai languages in order to help more herders easily understand the content … even though there are still some issues with poor communication signals.”

In addition to WhatsApp and the radio programs, Mr. Yassin says the pastoralists are using a mobile service app called Afriscount which was developed to provide pastoralists with localized grazing maps.

He adds: “It also helps them make more accurate and cost-effective migration decisions, improve pasture management and collaboration, reduce the risk of herd loss, and ultimately transform their lives.”

Rahel Oleselea is a widow and mother of six children and four grandchildren, and a pastoralist in Oletesi village in Longido district. She says easy access to weather information through radio and mobile phones is helping her plan how much feed she needs to buy for her cattle.

She explains: “I was planning to increase and keep more feed for my cattle since it had not started raining, but this plan is no more. I received the information that it would be raining and we were advised to start returning to our permanent homes with our livestock.”

Weather information—and in particular seasonal forecasts—provide the basis for effective livestock herding because pastoralists can anticipate where pasture land and water will be available at a particular time of year.

Mr. Kakanji says he has benefitted immensely from the weather information, especially when deciding where to take his livestock in search of pasture.

He explains: “When it’s dry, we usually move to the Ongorika military land that is unused for either residential or farming. When pasture becomes inadequate, we move towards Ngorika to Mwita in Monduli passing through Esilalei, Naitorya, and Msakini villages.”

This resource was supported by the World Food Programme through the Climate and weather information services for farmers and pastoralists (CWIP) project.