The BRACED Welthungerhilfe/Self Help Africa team and extension services walk to a village in Bam, Burkina Faso, despite flooded roads, August 17, 2016. Photo by M.Soré
A phone ringing to the tune of “Jingle bells” turns heads and breaks the room’s silence. Once over, people turn their attention back to the screen, where a map of Burkina Faso and its rainfall forecast is displayed. The National Agency of Meteorology (ANAM) is holding its annual press conference ahead of the rainy season.
In Burkina Faso, where 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas and depends mainly on agricultural activities, the announcement of the seasonal forecast is an important event. The forecast indicates the dates of onset and of the end of the rainy season, the expected rainfall situation and the length of any dry pockets within the rainy season.
This information is valuable for the farmers as it will help them determine the best period for sowing or transplanting, which seeds to choose or what precautions to take to protect their crops. Yet, the meteorological jargon is confusing for many people and most of the farmers still rely on their traditional knowledge of the seasons for work in the field.
Although traditional forecasters have an in-depth knowledge of their environment, it has become clear that some of the usual references – such as the blossoming of a specific tree or the migration of a bird – are less reliable because of climate change.
Scientific evidence shows that temperatures in the country have been steadily increasing and that soils have lost fertility due to floods. Climate extremes and their effects have made farmers more vulnerable and endangered their food security; entire harvests can be damaged or infected by pests, while families risk losing their unique source of income.
The ANAM 2017 seasonal forecast indicates that the rainy season had an early start and that rainfall level might exceed the usual levels registered in the country.
“Well, we figured out that the season started early this year”, laughed a farmer from Mané, in Sanmatenga province, “we don’t need science to tell us that.” He is attending a participatory scenario planning session organised by the Welthungerhilfe/Self Help Africa BRACED consortium.
These sessions, held in the town hall, involve all stakeholders at the community level: farmers, NGOs, local authorities, traditional leaders and traders. They are facilitated by the project staff and intermediary agents – representative from the ministries of Environment and Agriculture – who have been trained on these topics.
Together, the participants identify the main weather risks facing the inhabitants of Mané (falling trees, flooded roads, diseases) and the opportunities they might benefit from (groundwater recharge, good wetland rice harvests…). For each scenario, they develop corresponding agricultural advice. The sessions gradually become less formal and the shiest participants step in front of the audience to expose their recommendations.
The forecast warns of long dry pockets in the second half of the season, meaning that farmers ought to sow short-season crop varieties, which some of them hadn’t planned to do. “Actually, the forecast is useful. The rainy seasons vary from year to year and it helps to know what might happen so we can plan accordingly,” said Sawadogo, another farmer.
The Welthungerhilfe/Self Help Africa BRACED consortium in Burkina Faso works on improving the most vulnerable farmers’ access to climate and agro-meteorological information. Sharing the seasonal forecast, raising awareness on the use of the climate information, translating jargon into simple language that matches producers’ reality are a step in the right direction.