LONDON, May 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When farmers
in northern Burkina Faso speak about the direction of the wind,
they refer to the direction it is blowing in. Burkina Faso's
meteorological agency, however, classifies wind by the direction
it comes from.
That means that when state forecasters warn of a strong west
wind, farmers find an east wind comes gusting along, flattening
their faith in forecasts.
But a new guide aims to solve that problem – and help
farmers build better resilience to climate change – by
translating the French and English words commonly used in
weather forecasts not just into northern Burkina Faso's local
languages but also its culture.
The guide, for instance, translates the French and English
word "eclipse" – the total or partial disappearance of the sun
or moon – into the much more colourful term Burkinabe farmers
would use for the phenomenon, said Malick Victor, a journalist
from Chad who led development of the translation guide.
"If on local radio I want to announce an eclipse, I need to
say that 'Tomorrow, according to the meteorological forecast,
the cat will catch the moon or the sun,'" Victor said.
"Right now, the language used (by forecasters) is so
technical and not designed for the farmer," he said. "But if we
give it to the farmer in a way they can understand, then they
can use it."
TOO HOT TO GO OUT?
Victor's guide – a dictionary of more than 500 French and
English meteorological terms with equivalent translations in
Moore, Fulfulde and Gulimancema, northern Burkina Faso's three
most-spoken languages – was created as part of the British
government-funded Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate
Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme.
The three-year programme aims to give some of the world's
most climate-vulnerable people, in countries from Myanmar to
South Sudan, the tools they need to prepare for more extreme
weather and fend off more frequent climate shocks without
slipping into worsening poverty.
Victor, who works for media non-profit Internews as part of
Zaman Lebidi, a BRACED project led by anti-poverty charity
Christian Aid, started the guide last year after noticing that
efforts to get better seasonal forecasts to farmers through
radio broadcasts weren't working effectively, in large part
because of translation issues.
To sort out the problems, he brought together farmers,
journalists from local radio stations, community leaders and
meteorological agency officials, who over two days decided on
517 key terms that needed better translation.
In Burkina Faso, for instance, farmers have little use for
terms like winter and summer, instead dividing the year into
periods of different rainfall and winds, such as the hot Saharan
Harmattan wind season or the monsoon period.
Efforts to broadcast expected high temperatures also don't
make much sense for remote rural farmers without temperature
gauges, Victor said.
"But if you can say whether it's a day you can go outside
with your animals or not, that can help," he said.
The guide notes that it hopes to "remove the risk of
misunderstanding" between meteorologists, who accuse journalists
of misinterpreting weather information; journalists, who accuse
meteorologists of being inaccurate; and farmers who aren't sure
they can trust any of the information they're getting.
Edmund Henley, who organised technical assistance to the
project from the UK's Met Office, said the effort is not the
first to try to put complicated meteorological terms into other
A World Meteorological Organization website, for instance,
offers translations of scientific terms into Arabic, Mandarin,
Russian and Spanish, among other languages.
But the Burkina Faso effort is unusual both in taking on
local languages and making a "huge effort to get things into
terms that are understandable to people," Henley said. "They had
to think, 'What are we trying to get across?'"
The guide's focus on creating simple French and English
equivalents for more complicated meteorological terms also means
the guide is likely to be widely useful beyond Burkina Faso's
borders, he said.
The translation project, backed by more than a dozen partner
organisations – including Burkina Faso's meteorological agency
and other national institutes, the country's radio and
television groups, King's College London and German charity
Welthungerhilfe – is now moving on to establishing mobile phone
abbreviations for key terms.
That will make the better-tuned weather information more
widely available by text message as well as on radio and
television, Victor said.
"With abbreviations we can get it short," he said. "We know
all the farmers in rural areas don't listen to the radio or read
newspapers or look at television. But SMS doesn't need radio
Burkina Faso's government, which has encouraged the project,
has indicated it intends to reprint and more widely distribute
the new guide, and hopes to expand the translation effort to
more of the country's approximately 60 languages.
The already translated terms are being put into the national
primary school curriculum as well this year, Victor said.
The effort has also drawn the interest of other
BRACED-funded projects in Niger, Ethiopia and Senegal, with
journalists hoping to replicate the effort there, he said.
"Everyone wants to get this," he said of the translation
(Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; editing by Zoe
Tabary.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking
and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)