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Kenya: A warning system to mitigate negative effects from drought


06 September 2012

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In Kenya, where agriculture accounts for 75 per cent of jobs, and 80 per cent of the land is arid or semi-arid, droughts can be crippling. Sophisticated drought monitoring systems exist on a macro level, but they do not provide localised warnings.

The Kenyan Meteorological Department (KMD), in partnership with the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development Climate Prediction and Application Centre (ICPAC), has developed and is now piloting a more localised early warning system to mitigate negative effects from drought.

The system utilises a custom Android phone application that sends weather data gathered from local-level sensors in a Wireless Sensor Network (WSN) to a central database. It also incorporates traditional knowledge about weather forecasting gathered from local communities via SMS.

Farmers can request drought forecasts from a customized agent-based SMS facility that are then sent back to them in their local language at low cost. The forecasts are modeled from a combination of traditional knowledge, historical weather data collected by the WSN, and current local conditions. The system supports alerts for more extreme weather as well. Information on both weather conditions and forecasts is also accessible through a web portal.

This early warning system overcomes multiple barriers to communicating accurate and timely weather information to rural farmers. Previous forecasts were too broad to incorporate significant regional variation in conditions, and alerts were generally sent in English. Trust and engagement are also increased by looking to local knowledge as a key source of forecasting information.

By localising the information inputs and outputs, the KMD is making itself more relevant for the subsistence farmers who are highly susceptible to damage from serious weather events. The system is currently being field tested in two locations, with results and further expansion expected in the coming months.

 
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