Feature Story

Power to the farmers: Climate information and early warnings to save lives and build resilience in Uganda

June 19, 2018

Men farming in Africa.
With 80 percent of Uganda’s population dependent on rain-fed agriculture, reliable weather reports, weather forecasts, and other climate services for farmers are imperative.

In 2017, a serious drought across the Horn of Africa threatened water security, ruined crops, and worsened chronic hunger in Kenya, Somalia, and South Sudan.

Even Africa’s breadbasket – Uganda – wasn’t spared; the country’s lush pastureland and verdant fields were replaced with browned fields and dry red clay, leaving over nine million Ugandans in need of food aid.

Dry riverbed.

The drought underscored the urgent need to bolster resilience and improve lives and livelihoods.

In a particularly timely effort, the Government of Uganda embarked on an ambitious mission to modernise its weather, water, and climate monitoring systems, in an attempt to forestall future humanitarian disasters even when expected rains do not come.

Rural Africa.

 

WEAVING A SOCIAL WEB

With financing from the Global Environment Facility’s Least Developed Countries Fund, and support from UNDP and the Ministry of Water and Environment, the Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems (SCIEWS) project in Uganda has supported the establishment of ‘one of the most complete weather monitoring systems in East Africa’, according to Pascal Onegiu Okello, Project Manager for the UNDP-supported SCIEWS Project in Uganda.

“With improved weather monitoring and reporting, we can help smallholder farmers to plant at the right time so that they are assured of their harvests. It also means improved access to risk-mitigation tools like weather-index-based insurance. More importantly, these integrated weather services are about saving lives,” said Mr Okello Pascal.

African man looking into sky.

Installing critical technologies throughout the country, and integrating improved climate information into decision-making processes, the project has increased the capacity of the national early warning network to forewarn and rapidly respond to extreme climate events, including drought.

Two African men.

For farmers, the largest challenges come from unreliable rains, changes in weather patterns, severe storms, and droughts. These changing weather patterns are testing age-old farming widsom, and making it harder for people from some parts of the country to make a living and feed their families from rain-fed agriculture.

With 80 percent of Uganda’s population dependent on rain-fed agriculture, reliable weather reports, weather forecasts, and other climate services for farmers are imperative.

Group of people in Africa.

 

POWERED BY DATA

The Government of Uganda has taken vital steps to modernise its National Hydro-Meteorological Services (NHMS) and provide its citizens with invaluable public services that can protect agricultural production, help people build long-term solutions for food security and climate resilience, and respond to rapidly-building storms.

The transformation of the Uganda NHMS is an exemplary case for other countries in Africa, and forms an important part of the climate services backbone.

According to a report from UNDP’s Programme on Climate Information for Resilient Development in Africa (CIRDA), “Creating a sustainable model for the delivery of effective weather and climate services across sub-Saharan Africa will require policymakers to critically examine the status quo and adopt a new vision for the implementation of this essential public service. This goes beyond the simple procurement and installation of new technologies, to an end-to-end systems approach.There is no silver bullet, but with effectively structured public-private partnerships, new technology and services, strengthened institutions, increased regional cooperation and continued capacity-building, sustainable solutions to providing climate and weather services are a realistic and attainable goal.”

Fenced off area.

 

Leveraging this new vision and integrated approach, the Government of Uganda set out with the ambitious goal of modernizing its monitoring and reporting systems. With the installation of new weather monitoring systems in the area – and an innovative public-private partnership to share relevant weather alerts over cell phones – farmers now have access to valuable information that can help them adapt to climatic changes.

With these new services, farmers get up-to-the-minute weather information and improved crop forecasts that will help them know when to plant, when to harvest, and when to take their crops to market.

INFORMATION BROKER

The new capacity of NHMS in Uganda attracted Uganda’s Fit Insights Group – a business development services company – which first started working with UNDP on value chain analysis.

The public-private partnership has facilitated commodities lending and insurance to farmers in Uganda who would otherwise be excluded from private markets. These additional financial services – which can be the difference between profitability and ruin for rural farmers with small margins - rely on the improved data collection and forecasting that the SCIEWS project provides.

By connecting public services such as climatic forecasting with private services such as lending money to farmers to buy seeds, Uganda’s development potential can be realised more quickly and more widely.

 

Mr. Robert M.J Kintu of FIT Uganda notes that “Our business is driven by the fact that all farmers and traders need to be connected to services to enable holistic human development.”

When farmers are able to learn what their crops are selling for in the capital city, it gives them greater power to negotiate better prices for their crops locally. At the end of the planting season, these public-private partnerships afford farmers access to profit-and-loss reports that can be leveraged for future lending and insurance, increasing farmers’ resilience.

“[By w]orking towards increased data utilisation – production and transaction – and understanding the implications and also predicting - if we have that data that can be compared across the country and the region – it will help for people who might want to invest – help build confidence,” said Kintu.

The involvement of private service providers serves as a force multiplier for the services SCIEWS provides, allowing small public investments to catalyse widespread positive development outcomes throughout rural Uganda – but they hinge on timely, accurate, and relevant forecasting on the part of Uganda’s meteorological authority.

 

METEOROLOGICAL & HYDROLOGICAL DATA

In service of the project’s meteorological objectives, 48 manual weather stations were revamped and are now collecting meteorological data. Additionally, there is now a network of 43 automatic weather stations (25 supported by the SCIEWS project), which cover over one fourth of Uganda’s administrative districts.

These meteorological objectives are complemented by a hydrological initiative, which has established a total of 89 functioning water-level stations which help forecast flooding and landslides. These forecasts have proven so valuable that they have begun to be sold to the aviation and hydropower sectors, increasing the viability and the sustainability of wider weather services.

LIGHTNING STRIKES, NOT ONCE BUT TWICE

In addition, some meteorological stations are equipped with lightning detection capability, serving to bring down the high toll of fatal lightning strikes.

The increased number of lightning detection stations provide coverage for the Central, Eastern and Northern region of the country, which have the unhappy distinction of the highest number of lightning fatalities on earth.

The Total Solutions Automatic Weather Stations are also integrating lightning data from neighbouring networks in Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania, improving data quality – and thereby local specificity - via regional co-operation.

DATA INFORMING POLICIES & IMPROVING LIVES

Climate change requires new policies and new ways of doing business, including improved climate information being made available to decision makers. The systems built by the SCIEWS project will improve sharing of improved forecasts and other climate information products, in turn bolstering the Government of Uganda’s economic development and risk-reduction efforts.

For more information on the Uganda SCIEWS project, visit the project profile.

For more information on UNDP-supported Climate Information and Early Warning Systems projects in Africa, visit the CIRDA profile.


Footnotes: Story by Andrea Egan, David Angelson, Greg Benchwick and Pascal Okello / Photos by Andrea Egan, Luke McPake, and UNDP Uganda

Story originally published by Climate Adaptation UNDP.