Weather forecasts: Helping farmers win their battle against climate change

Real-time weather updates are cushioning small-scale farmers in Burkina Faso and Zambia from the impacts of prolonged dry spells, greater flooding and erratic rainfall.

Farmers in Zambia are being sent weather forecasts via the radio and their mobile phones © Moses Zangar/UNDP

Agro-meteorological services are helping nearly 1 million farmers in Zambia become more climate-resilient. The Climate Information and Early Warning Systems Project, supported by the United Nations Development Programme, is providing regular weather forecasts and agricultural advice to farming communities to help them adjust the varieties of crops they grow to suit the weather and boost agricultural production. More than 68 automated weather stations and 40 manual stations have already been installed. This enables the project to notify farmers before planting whether the season will be dry, and if so, advises them to substitute their regular crops with varieties that require less water. “Our regular weather updates give farmers up to 10 days lead time to plan during the rainy season,” says Edson Nkonde, acting director of the Zambia Meteorological Department.

Weather updates are sent by text message in English to lead farmers who relay the information to fellow farmers in local languages. The project also partners with the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation, which allows the project to transmit meteorological information to about 6 million small-scale farmers across the entire country. To enhance small-scale farmers’ capacity to manage risks, the project is working with community radio stations in pilot districts to broadcast the seasonal forecasts in local languages and trains the presenters on how to interpret the information. “Indigenous knowledge of predictions have become more like tossing a coin,” farmer Sililo Musepei explains. “We now see that traditional ways of predicting the weather just don’t work. With climate updates I know that if it rains tomorrow I can save my fertiliser for another day.”

By having a better idea of when, how and what to plant, farmers are getting higher yields and increasing their income. “The use of weather and climate information assisted me to plant in good time, explains farmer Roida Zulu. “I have increased maize production from less than 1 t/ha to 5 t/ha. I will keep 1 t for consumption and sell 4 t to help pay my children’s school fees.” Gertrude Sililo, another farmer who has benefitted, adds, “My harvest this farming season was far beyond average. My neighbour who used the normal traditional way of predicting the weather did not harvest anything, despite having used fertilisers and certified seed.”

In Burkina Faso, a weekly radio programme initiated by FAO in collaboration with the National Meteorological Agency, is also providing weather forecasting and agronomic advice to more than 200,000 agro-pastoralists to increase their resilience to climate change. Topics covered have included natural resource management, soil fertility and pesticide use, as well as prevention and eradication of animal diseases. “Radio Climat allowed me to diversify my crops,” states Moussa Sékou. “Before, I only produced maize, but as the show gave me an idea of when it would rain every week, I also produced rice in the wetter periods. Following the advice, I cut a lot of grass that I will keep and dry to feed my little flock in the dry season."

Olivia Frost & Dieudonné Edouard Sango

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.