GUILOKI, Niger, May 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When
Moumouni Abdoulaye and his fellow herders in western Niger used
to set off on scouting missions in search of water, they feared
for their livestock - and for their own lives.
Unable to rely anymore on their traditional methods of
predicting the weather amid increasingly erratic droughts and
floods, and lacking modern climate information, they struggled
to predict where, and when, they might find water in the vast
"We were living in limbo. Without knowledge, we constantly
risked our lives," said Abdoulaye, seeking shade under a tree
from the fierce midday sun in Niger's Tillabery region.
But a project to involve the region's semi-nomadic people in
the production of locally-specific, real-time weather forecasts
- and provide them with radios and mobile phones to receive and
share the information - is transforming the lives of tens of
thousands of Nigeriens like Abdoulaye.
"Now we receive daily updates about rainfall, can call other
communities to ask if they have had rain, and plan our movements
accordingly," Abdoulaye told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In Niger, as across much of Africa's Sahel region, frequent
droughts have impoverished many people and made it much harder
to make a living from agriculture. That is happening in a West
African country already consistently ranked at the bottom of the
U.N. Human Development Index.
With climate change now exacerbating pressures, experts say
there is a growing and urgent need for better climate
information, to ensure farmers and pastoralists are equipped to
cope with unpredictable rainfall and climate shocks.
Across Africa, only limited climate data is collected and
made available, and information services are often not well
understood, user-friendly, or followed up to help people put the
information to use in adapting to climate threats, experts say.
Ensuring that communities play a role - alongside state and
aid agencies - in generating and sharing weather information is
the best way to get them to use it and to build their resilience
to the growing pressures, said Blane Harvey of the Overseas
Development Institute (ODI).
"Co-participation is very powerful because people will buy
into a service if they've had a hand in producing it," he said.
"Crucially, they bring in their local knowledge, which helps
to downscale and triangulate more regionalised forecasts," added
Harvey, a research associate at the London-based thinktank.
A lack of weather stations across Africa means that
forecasts, produced by national meteorological agencies, tend to
be too broad to be of much use at a local level.
But a project launched in 2015, funded by the U.K.
Department for International Development (DFID) and led by CARE
International, is trying to improve the quality of and access to
climate data for farmers and pastoralists in western Niger.
CARE's project under the Building Resilience and Adaptation
to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme aims to
help 450,000 people become better prepared for climate shocks,
including through giving them access to better forecasts.
The goal is to help them diversify their farming and find
ways of making money which are not so heavily impacted by
climate change, in order to better withstand climate pressures.
For farmer Adamou Soumana, improved access to climate
information has given his village a better understanding of the
weather shocks they are encountering, and the confidence to
adopt resilience boosting strategies such as using
climate-adapted seeds, finding sustainable ways to harvest
forest products, and storing harvests.
"Previously, if it rained in January, we rushed to plant our
crops thinking the rainy season starts - when in fact it never
comes before May," he said.
"Now we understand climate shocks, and can plan our
activities in advance. We feel more resilient," he said.
The BRACED project has helped communities by acting as a
broker between them and meteorological agencies, and ensuring
agency partners are trained to interpret climate data, translate
it into local languages and help people to make sense of the
The project also connects local people who collect rainfall
data, as well as other farming and pastoralist leaders, with
community radio stations to share real-time information daily.
Incorporating traditional observations - such as when trees
bloom or the way birds behave - and having regular discussions
with communities is key to building and maintaining trust in
climate information services, said Richard Ewbank of Christian
Aid, another charity working on climate resilience issues.
"Having experts and community leaders together and combining
local knowledge with scientific forecasts is the best way to
agree on a climate scenario, and make key decisions for the
coming season," said the global climate advisor for the charity.
LIFE OR DEATH DECISIONS
In addition to improving the quality of climate information
and making it more relevant on a community-by-community basis,
the BRACED project in Niger has provided mobile phones and
radios to boost the spread of the forecasts.
"Receiving and sharing the information in this way not only
helps pastoralists know when and where to move, it also builds
relationships and trust between people," said Amadou Adamou of
the Association for the Revitalization of Livestock Breeding.
Good information can not only help pastoralists find water
sources but also help them know when to sell their animals,
especially if drought is on the way, according to Adamou.
The mobile phones and radios used are powered by solar
cells, enabling pastoralists to get forecasts while on the move.
They also are given to both male and female community chiefs to
ensure women have equal access to the information.
While better climate data has improved resilience for many
in Tillabery region, in both settled and nomadic communities,
there is still much room for improvement, several experts said.
Residents want to see more meteorological advisers based
locally who can help them have regular discussions about the
They also want more help to convert the data into action on
the ground such as diversifying the crops they grow and better
planning the timing and direction of their migration routes in
search of water. They also want the information service expanded
to cover neighbouring countries.
"Getting better forecasts is one thing. But having good,
solid advice about what the information means, and discussions
on how to use it to become more resilient, is what people in the
region really want," said Harouna Hama Hama of CARE.
For roaming communities like Abdoulaye's - people who cross
into neighbouring Benin, Burkina Faso and Togo with their
livestock - expanding the climate data effort to produce
region-wide forecasts could mean the difference between life and
death for many of their members, Abdoulaye said.
"Whenever some of our people head to these countries, they
and the animals risk dying of thirst," he said. "With better
forecasts, and for the whole region, we could lose fewer lives."
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Laurie Goering;
Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm
of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's
rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and
resilience. Visit news.trust.org)