People living in the Kilombero river catchment in east-central Tanzania make important water-use and farming decisions based on the seasonal forecasts they get from the country’s national meteorological service. This shows the importance of keeping regular, accurate forecast information flowing to communities on the ground, either through television and radio broadcasts or through the state’s agricultural extension services.
This is according to Emanuel Lorivi, a wildlife management expert with the Tanzanian National Parks Authority, who recently completed a study on the uptake of climate information by communities living in the Kilombero river basin, south-east of the capital Dar es Salaam.
“Climate information is useful for communities like this, because it can help them be adaptive to changes in climate,” explains Lorivi.
The climate information provided by the Tanzania Meteorological Agency either comes in the form of weather forecasts that may relate to approaching conditions up to a few hours away, or for the forthcoming months, whereas the climate projections could span months or decades into the future.
“For this research, I was specifically interested in seeing how communities in the Kilombero River area were able to access seasonal forecasts coming through from the meteorological agency for the upcoming year, and how people responded to that information.”
Lorivi interviewed 120 villagers from Lumemo, Nakafulu and Biro villages across the Kilombero River catchment in the Rufiji River Basin. These communities have a higher number of older residents, since many of the younger generation have moved to towns and cities in search of job opportunities.
“There are many different stakeholders in this area who need to share water resources, and how people use water has implications for water conservation across the area,” he explains. “People need water from the river for domestic purposes and watering their crops. The larger irrigation schemes need to draw water from the river; small industries and seasonally migrating animals in Selous-Mikumi ecosystem need the water, too. And there is an electricity hydro-scheme further down the river.”
Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns, linked with human-caused global warming, will impact water availability in the river basin in the long-term, so it’s important to understand how people can be made more resilient to these changes. One way, according to Lorivi, is to understand how people respond to information relating to weather and climate forecasts.
Lorivi comes from a wildlife management background, and began his research in 2017, working with Future Climate For Africa whose capacity development initiative the Innovation Fund provided funding for Lorivi’s Masters studies through Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, in eastern Tanzania.
This research found that farmers in the river basin make season planting and other farming decisions on the basis of two sources of climate information. The first source of information is the formal forecasting from the national meteorological service, which they receive either through agriculture extension service officers or through broadcasts on local television and radio stations. But farmers also rely on their traditional knowledge of season changes in plants, or animal behaviours, to get a sense of what the upcoming season might be like.
“Some villagers said that if the mango trees fruit well in October or November, this will predict early and adequate short rains. But if the trees don’t fruit well, this means unpredictable short rains. Or if they see certain bird species in their villages, like ground hornbill, they believe this means the area will experience heavy rains in that year. People will adapt their farming and planting plans accordingly.”People also share information amongst themselves, within the community. “Families who don’t have electricity in their homes might not be able to hear the forecasts broadcast across the news channels, and this is where the community sharing of information becomes important.” If farmers know they have a dry season ahead of them, for instance, they might choose not to plant that year, and might move to a nearby town for the season, to find work or some other livelihood opportunity. The result, in terms of water conservation, is that farmers don’t plant close to the river for the season, which can benefit for the river system and other water users. The take-home message for policy makers, according to Lorivi, is that many of these farmers and villagers know that there is climate information available to them, and are thirsty for it. The state therefore needs to ensure accuracy in its forecasting, and then make sure that people are able to receive the information through the appropriate channels, such as news broadcasts and extension services. “At the moment, some of the forecasts are still too general, giving a broad forecast across the wider region. Farmers would benefit more if the forecasts were ‘downscaled’ to be more specific to smaller geographical regions.” Lorivi was one of five researchers who received funds through the Innovation Fund of FCFA, in order to complete post-graduate studies linked with climate-related studies in Tanzania. Lorivi now works with the Tanzanian National Parks Authority, and hopes to move on to his doctoral studies, where he intends looking at the likely impacts of climate change on wildlife species in the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem in northern Tanzania. The work reported on in this story is part of Future Climate for Africa’s UMFULA (Uncertainty Reduction in Models for Understanding Development Applications) team. It aims to advance scientific knowledge about regional climate responses to human activities and work with decision-makers to integrate this knowledge into climate-sensitive decisions in central and southern Africa, with a particular focus on Tanzania and Malawi. This article was written by Leonie Joubert and is part of a series that highlights the capacity development initiatives of FCFA and introduces the Early Career Researchers involved in them.