Reliable weather data impacting on farmers’ yields

A woman standing on the verandah of a building holds out a bowl to collect rainwater during a sudden downpour.

By Alex Ubutu – SciDev.Net

A project that started in 2012 is helping smallholders in 17 African nations obtain reliable and accurate weather data to increase crop yields.

Lack of reliable weather information in most parts of Africa is making many households lose from agriculture, experts say.

The Trans-African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory (TAHMO) project was started in 2012 with an ambitious plan of establishing 20,000 weather stations across Africa to help farmers in particular.
“Providing a reliable source of weather information gives farmers some degree of certainty in weather measurement.”

TAHMO stations are typically installed at local schools, where they can be used for educational purposes. The innovation known as ATMOS 41 is an all-in-one weather station that fulfils all weather measuring needs such as air temperature, relative humidity, vapour pressure, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, solar radiation, precipitation and lightning.

Data generated by TAHMO stations is sent to an internet platform to aid accessibility and analyses to guide farmers. TAHMO explains that most all-in-one weather stations provide the option to measure either solar radiation or precipitation, but the ATMOS 41 provides both measurements in one device.

The weather patterns largely determine agricultural performance. More accurate weather information would allow smallholder farmers make better resource management decisions. Weather information also gives farmers access to services such as crop insurance.

“Providing a reliable source of weather information gives farmers some degree of certainty in weather measurement,” said Nick van de Giesen, a director of the project and a professor of the Netherlands-based Delft University of Technology, in an interview with SciDev.Net last month (26 March).

“In Africa, weather influences how households decide to farm and the amount of household income coming from crop sales. When rains fail or prolong, livelihoods are lost,” van de Giesen explains.

According to van de Giesen, the project was developed because of the “near complete lack of systematic climate observations on the African continent” which hinders scientific and economic development.

He adds that the project has been able to establish 105 stations in 17 African countries including Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda to help farmers.

John Selker, a professor of biological and ecological engineering at the US-based Oregon State University and co-director of the project, was quoted in a TAHMO press release on 22 March statement as saying that there is a decline in climate observation in Africa due to absence of equipment for real-time reporting and weather monitoring are not top priorities.

“In Africa the opportunity to improve yields is phenomenal,” Selker says.

Niyi Sunmonu, a researcher with the Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria, tells SciDev.Net: “TAHMO, like other meteorological data, will be of immense benefits to African farmers as it will provide basic meteorological information across different parts of Africa.”

Most African farmers depend on the rain, and thus the project is providing information such as the onset and cessation of rainfall across different parts of Africa to guide farmers, he explains.