Friday, April 15, 2011

Seasonal climate forecasts possible in Africa but not helping yet

Laurie Goering in AlertNet: For African farmers struggling to cope with increasingly erratic conditions linked to climate change, there’s good – and bad - news. The good news is that in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, scientists can now issue reasonably reliable seasonal climate forecasts a month or more in advance of the planting season, giving growers a chance to opt for different kinds of crops or other measures to adapt to upcoming conditions. That has the potential to improve food security in many climate-vulnerable parts of Africa, and reduce the impact on some of the world’s poorest people of droughts, floods and temperature surges.

The bad news is that those forecasts, and other historical weather information farmers need to judge risk and make good decisions, still are not reaching most growers, in part because meteorological data in many African countries is available only at a cost.

Weather information “is an essential resource for adaptation (to climate change) and development,” said James W. Hansen, a researcher on climate change, agriculture and food security at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and lead author of a new report on seasonal climate forecasting and agriculture in Africa.

But “as long as these (data) are seen as a revenue source for Met services rather than as a public good for development, the people who are most affected by climate change, climate variability and poverty won’t have much access to innovations,” he said in a telephone interview.

Growing climate variability is making life increasingly difficult for farmers throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Some areas, particularly in southern and eastern Africa, are seeing extended droughts and high temperatures that can make growing staples like maize a challenge. Other regions, including parts of West Africa, have struggled with extreme rainfall…

Students in Hai, Tanzania tending school crops in Hai, Kilimanjaro Region, Tanzania. Shot by Ron Rieckenberg, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

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