KONSO, Ethiopia - It is the seventh consecutive year that Deneke Degaga, 38 and father of eight, is facing a crop failure.
Degaga lives in Konso, an area that has faced repeated droughts. This year, when Degaga’s sorghum, bean and maize crop died, he decided to sell his one of his last two plough oxen in order to feed his family.
Without an income from crops, people living Konso often clear forests for wood to use and sell to survive. Deforestation is now on the rise, a sign that people are suffering from climate change – and further contributing to it by cutting trees, which help induce rain and keep temperatures lower.
A new project in Konso aims to help people like Degaga avoid cutting trees or selling vital work animals when climate extremes hit.
Under the effort, the national meteorological agencies of Ethiopia and the United Kingdom are working together to provide Ethiopian farmers with not just climate information, but also advisories on how to respond to weather reports.
Previously, just basic climate information had been given on the radio.
Led by Christian Aid, the project aims to prevent crop failure and promote the sustainable use of forest resources. It is one of 15 climate change adaptation projects being funded under the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) initiative by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).
The projects are scattered across some of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the Sahel and its neighbouring countries in Africa, and in South and Southeast Asia.
CHALLENGES OF DROUGHT AND COMMUNICATIONS IN RURAL AREAS
The area around Konso, 600 kilometres away from Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, has 275,000 inhabitants, most of whom are farmers who both grow crops and rear animals. In addition, the people survive on petty trade and artisanal activities such as the production of clothing, woodworks and bronze jewellery.
Changing weather patterns and deforestation have made that survival more difficult.
“Some 30 years back the area was so green and we were feeding our children a balanced diet from our livestock,” said Gremew Gelle, a 58 year-old resident of Konso. “But now the reverse is happening. The place is turned to desert.”
Women are forced to travel further to fetch water as nearby streams dry up during drought periods – and those periods are getting worse and more frequent, residents say.
“We travel for 40 minutes to fetch water and wait for over four hours on the queues to get water,” said Sabiya Binase who lives in Konso.
Being so far away from the capital can mean being far away from resources to respond to the problem, but Christian Aid is working with – among other partners – BBC Media Action to make sure climate information and advisories reach people living in remote areas, particularly vulnerable groups such as women and girls.
As climate change takes hold, Ethiopia has seen both extreme temperatures and extremes in precipitation that can cause drought or flooding. Finding a way to inform people of coming weather hazards, in languages they understand, is key to improving their resilience, Christian Aid believes.
“We produce 20-minute radio programmes about climate information which includes weather forecasts and expert advice to the farmers that help them to cope with climate change and increase productivity,” said Andenet Bayisa, who leads BBC Media Action work on the BRACED project. The programmes are broadcast by local radio stations, in local languages.
The project also plans to use text messaging as a means of getting information out in rural areas.
The National Meteorological Agency (NMA) of Ethiopia, which monitors weather data within eight kilometres of each of its automated weather stations, plans to pass the data to BBC Media Action, which will forward it to government-funded technical agents who will in turn pass it on to farmers in their area.
Automated weather stations are a new phenomenon in Ethiopia. With nearly 120 of them across the country, more technical assistance and training is needed to make the most use of them, experts say.
In a bid to make the data even more local – to a radius of four kilometres – the National Meteorological Agency is working with the United Kingdom Met Service and King’s College London, said Henock Hailu, a meteorologist at the NMA and the agency’s contact for BRACED.
The localised climate information broadcast over the radio includes data on when the rains will start, what kinds of crops farmers should cultivate, and other advice to better cope with the changing environment.
The information aims to reach and assist farmers such Koilate Altaye, 42, a mother of seven who lost eight of her cattle to a heavy rain that followed a long dry season in 2014.
“If I was informed about the climate changes in advance, I would have moved my cattle to another area to save the life of my cattle,” said Altaye. “In addition I also would have stored as much forage for my cattle as possible if I had known the long dry season was coming.”
Once operational, the project, run with 4.4 million pounds ($6.7 million) of DFID funding, is expected to benefit about 800,000 farmers such as Altaye and their families in 55 provinces across Ethiopia.