Expert Blog Series on climate change Part 2

How to adapt to climate change? Remote sensing and weather forecasts helping farmers in Kenya.

In the previous blog, David Marcelis, a project leader and GIS & remote sensing researcher at AgroCares highlighted the impacts of climate change for farmers in East Africa. In this blog, he talks about the opportunity given to farmers in Kenya to get better weather forecasts. But what do these farmers need so that they can face climate change? Are there existing solutions? Are there available and relevant technologies? All these questions arise from the main question:

What are the solutions for East African farmers to face climate change?

I see two paths for farmers to face climate change. One solution is to become less dependent of the weather. Rainfed cropping systems are only successful with a sufficient and adapted water input from rain. Because natural rainfalls become less and less reliable, one solution to decrease risks is to transform rainfed cropping systems into irrigated or greenhouse cropping systems. However, in many cases water availability and access to capital are not sufficient to make such transformations.

The other path is to have a better insight of the variations of the climate. As I explained in the previous blog, it is more and more difficult for farmers in East Africa to forecast the beginning of the rainy season. It can have enormous impacts on yields. For example, if grains are sowed too much ahead of the first rains, only a few will come up. To face situations like this, farmers need access to reliable weather forecasts.

What weather information do farmers have access to in East Africa?

The most important source of information farmers use is their own experience. However, as I mentioned in the previous blog, this experience is challenged by increasing weather variability. There are different websites where weather forecasts can be found. However, available weather forecasts from different sources can be contradictory and often lack accuracy. Moreover, we realized that many farmers do not have access to internet. Smartphones are booming but not yet reaching all the population.

How can these farmers access reliable weather forecasts?

Most farmers have a feature phone and can receive SMS. Therefore, a way to reach them is to send weather forecasts directly on their phone via SMS. We have been working on this at AgroCares for the past three years in a project in Kenya called CROPMON. The weather forecast service is combined with a tailored advice on the farmers crop status. It relies on up-to-date and reliable weather data extracted thanks to remote sensing.

How do you produce weather forecasts thanks to remote sensing?

Remote sensing helps us to georeference the field of a farmer. It means that we link the information we have on this field to its geographic coordinates on a map. The geographic coordinates of the field can then easily be associated with other information that also are georeferenced, and that includes weather data from our partners Weather Impact. With this methodology, we can provide a weather forecast adapted to every farmer.

Concretely, what do the farmers get?

Today thanks to the project, 20,000 farmers in Kenya receive a weekly weather forecast report via SMS. The report includes forecasts for two time frames. The first one is the first three days and consists in temperature and precipitation predictions with a percentage of likelihood for each indicator. The second one is identical, but the forecasts are generated for the period of the four following days. The weather forecast’s spatial resolution is about 10 km², which increases the forecast’s value for local weather as compared to national broadcasts. Farmers are satisfied with this service and explain that it helps them to “catch the season” – in other words, to sow right at the beginning of the rainy season and maximize crop growth.