Farming communities in Africa are benefitting from an exchange programme to improve access to, and understanding of, climate science, according to a report presented at a seminar.

The seminar, held in in Dakar, Senegal, last month (20-21 November), discussed the results of the programme – which encompassed two demonstration studies in Kenya and Senegal — and identified the opportunities and challenges faced in making better use of short-range forecasts and early-warning systems for flooding.

The demonstration studies were completed in 2011 and demonstrated clear benefits, according to the Humanitarian Futures Programme (HFP) at King’s College London, United Kingdom.

HFP started the programme in 2009 between climate scientists and development and humanitarian policymakers in Kenya, Senegal and the United Kingdom to use climate science to boost the resilience of communities in the developing world.

The findings show that the programme better-prepared the two countries for floods that hit in 2009, meaning they were able to save their cattle and food supplies.

Additionally, as part of the programme, weather forecasts were given in television and radio broadcasts. The Red Cross also sent forecasts in text messages to its volunteers’ mobile phones and they passed these on by word of mouth.

During the project, experts from all three countries shared their experiences in harnessing climate science for adaptation to help rural African populations exposed to drought and flood risks.

According to Mariane Diop Kane, head of forecasting at the Senegalese National Agency for Civil Aviation and Meteorology (ANACIM), communities exposed to flooding and drought risks must be informed about established and potential climatic threats and have the support needed to make use of this information.

“One must overcome obstacles to establish a more-efficient dialogue between climate scientists, vulnerable communities and humanitarian and development organisations,” Diop Kane tells SciDev.Net.

ANACIM’s director of production, Chérif Diop, explains that the provision of immediate and short-term weather forecasts helped to boost agricultural production.

Sokhna Sall, a farmer in the village of Djoly Mandakh in the Kaffrine region, tells SciDev.Net that an early-warning climate system installed as part of the programme has also allowed local farmers to adapt maize and sorghum production to forecasts.

In Kenya, farmers have used a seven-day alarm that is provided before extreme meteorological events to help decide on things such as harvesting periods, whereas seasonal forecasts are used to choose what crops to grow.

The meeting was attended by representatives of the Senegalese Red Cross, ANACIM, the Humanitarian Futures Programme and climate scientists from the UK Met Office, the University of Liverpool and the University of Sussex.

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