Digital access to weather information helps young Tanzanian farmers build resilience
By Mponda Malozo
Agricultural production in most developing countries is largely dependent on rainfall.Therefore, farmers are highly reliant on timely access to accurate weather information and advisories to adapt to climate change. Indeed, lack of access to such weather information is one of the main challenges facing farmers in achieving sustainable food production and security. Compounding this problem, youth in general are less likely to follow agricultural vocations due to increasing difficulties and uncertainties related to climate risks in farming.
To address this issue in Tanzania, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), one of three national partners in the USAID-funded, USDA-implemented activity, “Building Capacity for Resilient Food Security,” has been collaborating with the Tanzania Meteorological Authority (TMA) to enhance national agrometeorological weather bulletins and information dissemination to extension officers and farmers for improved decision-making in agricultural production. As part of this activity, FAO has been particularly focused on encouraging greater youth participation in farming through generation and dissemination of weather information using social media, SMS messaging, and web-based digital platforms.
The use of SMS as practiced by TMA is a preferred method for farmers and extension officers to receive weather alerts and advisories. However, the system faces high operational costs. For example, at least three times a month, TMA must send information to over 3,000 registered farmers countrywide.
As an alternative, and to maintain system affordability and end-user ability to access weather information and advisories, the establishment of more than one digital communication channel was necessary. Internet-based platforms are cost-effective, readily available, and support not only text-based content, but also multimedia items such as videos, audio files and images. The use of digital platforms has become a game-changer by increasing timely access to weather information and advisories.
In the face of climate variability and change, the use of weather forecasts and outlooks in preparation for agricultural seasons has become a necessity. Improved access to mobile networks in rural areas, combined with the affordability of mobile phones and data packages, has increased the number of farmers using social media platforms, especially Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. Youth, being the most active group on digital platforms, have been primary beneficiaries through social media, where access to and utilization of weather information and advisories for climate-resilient agriculture and food security has been promoted.
FAO has also supported TMA in developing an agrometeorological database—a web-based platform for archiving and analyzing real-time agrometeorological information available to agricultural stakeholders. District extension officers and farmers within selected activity sites have also been trained on how to access, interpret, and use agrometeorological information and advisories for informed decision-making in agricultural production.
“The trainings on how to use the agrometeorological information have helped a great deal in coping with the impacts of climate variabilities and changes” says Mohammed Kombo Hamad, Chairman of the Fishermen’s Committee in Pemba Island, Zanzibar. According to Hamad, weather-related fishing accidents in the ocean are unfortunately far too common and have destroyed equipment and claimed the lives of many fishermen. Having access to improved weather forecasts aids fishermen in avoiding dangerous storms.
Livestock keeper Kimeni Marabu from Mvomero says, “Now that we are educated about weather information, we need to use the information received to have enough feed and water for our livestock in the season.”
The Building Capacity for Resilient Food Security activity is improving timely and innovative access to and effective use of weather information to not only improve agricultural planning, but also livelihood activities for enhanced food production and security across all age groups in Tanzania.