Filling a Climate Gap and Helping Rwandan Farmers

by |March 24, 2016

Agriculture makes up a major portion of Rwanda’s economy, and employs eight in 10 Rwandans. Of course, farmers are hugely dependent on the climate, and a new project hopes to ensure they get timely information so they can plan for both good times and bad.

While the country has a meteorological service, the brutal 1990-94 civil war there devastated the nation’s weather observation infrastructure. For 15 years, the agricultural sector suffered from lack of information about patterns of rainfall and temperature, making it difficult to understand the risks ahead from floods, drought and changing precipitation. It took until 2010 for Rwanda’s National Meteorological Agency to restore its pre-1994 number of observation stations.

To provide farmers with an accurate base of information to build on, the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at the Earth Institute organized the Enhancing National Climate Services initiative. That project brought in global satellite technology and climate-model products that helped fill the gap.

This chart shows the number of operational weather stations in Rwanda.

This chart shows the number of operational weather stations in Rwanda.

“We had to address this 15-year gap in our meteorological records,” said Didace Musoni, from Meteo-Rwanda. “This was not an abstract problem: The absence of such data has had significant impact on society here.”

“A lack of historical data means we cannot get an accurate baseline definition of weather in a ‘normal’ season, which means seasonal forecasts are going to be less accurate,” said Tufa Dinku, a research scientist at IRI who leads the work on data reconstruction. “For example, if forecasts call for ‘above-normal’ rainfall for the growing season, what does that really mean? The scale of the data problem in Rwanda is something we hadn’t encountered in other countries.”

With the record now intact, a new project, the Rwanda Climate Services for Agriculture project will work to provide farmers with timely access to climate information that can help them plan how they plant, fertilize and harvest their crops, and manage their risks from floods, droughts and other natural events. That includes sending out forecasts by both SMS and radio. The project is coordinated by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate, Agriculture and Food Security.

The Rwanda project is led by IRI’s James Hansen and is a collaboration with Rwandan agencies and international organizations. It will find out what information the farmers and agencies are seeking to better tailor climate information products to their needs. It will train farmers to use the information to better manage their risks, and help government agencies such as the agricultural ministry and other local institutions respond better to risks.

Read a full story on the project here.

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