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Kenya farmers use science + traditional forecasting to survive climate change

March 26 2012 - Kenyan farmers are combining information from climate scientists with traditional weather forecasting methods in an experiment which could help thousands of families adapt to climate change, a major conference will hear this week.

‘Combining traditional knowledge with science-based forecasts will help farmers make better decisions about which crops to plant where, as well as when to plant and harvest them,’ said Richard Ewbank, Climate Adviser at Christian Aid.

‘Those decisions change people’s lives - getting them right leads to good harvests and families having plenty to eat and sell. Getting them wrong can lead to hunger, poverty and suffering. This is the reality for millions of people across Africa.’

Climate change is expected to make it harder than ever for farmers to know what each growing season will bring, by making the weather more erratic and extreme.

The idea behind the Sustainable Agricultural Livelihoods Innovation Project in eastern Kenya, funded by Christian Aid and the Humanitarian Futures Project of King’s College, London, is that combining science-based seasonal forecasts with more traditional methods will be more successful than either approach alone.

Participating farmers have been coping with weather patterns consistent with the expected effects of climate change such as higher temperatures, more intense rainfall, stronger winds and longer dry periods.

Twelve groups (averaging 55 farmers each) were given scientists’ predictions of when last year’s short rains would start, how they would be distributed across the area concerned and when they would finish. Local, traditional indicators such as the timing of the flowering of acacia trees were also factored in.

Training was given in how to interpret the data from the Kenya Meteorological Department, and recommendations made about how best to grow main crops such as maize, cow peas, green grams, beans and sorghum.

Although some farmers already receive seasonal forecasts via radio and occasionally TV, many place little reliance on the information as the nearest weather monitoring station is some distance away in an area with very different rainfall patterns. This highlights another difficulty facing African farmers - the continent has only one eighth of the minimum number of weather monitoring stations recommended by the World Meteorological Association.

The forecast for the area using the project’s methods  was that it was ‘likely to receive near-normal rainfall with a tendency to above-normal’ and this is what actually happened, along with flash-floods in some areas towards the end of the rainy season.

Research with the farmers’ groups suggested that as a result of the extra information they received, they planted early to take advantage of the predicted early start to the rainy season, planted crops which could tolerate any possible early end to the rains and worked with the soil to ensure that whatever rains did fall penetrated the ground rather than running off it and causing soil erosion.

The project will continue through 2012 and 2013, including a further 24 farmers’ groups to bring the total number of people (including the farmers’ families) benefiting to some 12,000. New ways to tell farmers about scientists’ seasonal forecasts will also be investigated, including via mobile phones.

Early results from the project will be presented by Richard Ewbank at the Planet Under Pressure conference in London’s International Convention Centre tomorrow (Tuesday, 27th March). His presentation will be part of a panel discussion organised by the Humanitarian Futures Programme at King’s College, London.

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For information about the project, please contact Andrew Hogg on 0207 523 2058 or ahogg@christian-aid.org

For information about King’s College Humanitarian Futures Programme, please contact Emma Visman at emma.1.visman@kcl.ac.uk

Notes to Editors:

1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in nearly 50 countries. We act where the need is greatest, regardless of religion, helping people build the lives they deserve.

2. Christian Aid has a vision, an end to global poverty, and we believe that vision can become a reality. Our report, Poverty Over, explains what we believe needs to be done – and can be done – to end poverty.  Details at http://www.christianaid.org.uk/Images/poverty-over-report.pdf

3. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of 100 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance and development.  Further details at http://www.actalliance.org

4. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire

5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit www.christianaid.org.uk