KONSO, Ethiopia, March 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – It is the seventh consecutive year that Deneke Degaga, a father of eight, is facing a crop failure.
Degaga, 38, lives in Konso, an area that has faced repeated droughts. Recently, when his sorghum, bean and maize crop died, he decided to sell his one of his last two plough oxen in order to feed his family.
Without an income from farming, people in Konso often clear forests for wood, both to use at home and to sell. Deforestation is now on the rise, a sign that people are suffering from weather extremes related to climate change – and further contributing to those extremes by cutting trees, which help induce rain and keep temperatures lower.
But a new project in Konso aims to help people like Degaga avoid cutting trees or selling vital work animals when climate extremes hit.
As part of the project, the national meteorological agencies of Ethiopia and the United Kingdom are working together to provide Ethiopian farmers with not just climate information, but also advisories on how to respond to weather reports.
Previously, just basic climate information was given on the radio.
Led by Christian Aid, a UK-based development charity, the project aims to prevent crop failure and promote the sustainable use of forest resources.
It is one of 15 climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction projects being funded under the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) initiative funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).
The BRACED projects are scattered across some of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the Sahel and its neighbouring countries in Africa, and in South and Southeast Asia.
ADVICE BY RADIO
The area around Konso, 600 kilometres from Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, has 275,000 inhabitants, most of whom are farmers who both grow crops and rear animals. In addition, people survive on small-scale trade and producing clothing, woodwork and bronze jewellery.
Changing weather patterns and deforestation have made surviving that much more difficult.
“Some 30 years back the area was so green and we were feeding our children a balanced diet from our livestock,” said Gremew Gelle, a 58 year-old resident of Konso. “But now the reverse is happening. The place is turned to desert.”
Women are forced to travel ever further to fetch water as nearby streams dry up during drought periods. Those periods are getting more frequent, residents say.
“We travel for 40 minutes to fetch water and wait for over four hours in the to get water,” said Sabiya Binase, one Konso resident.
Being far away from the capital can mean also being far away from resources to respond to the problem. But Christian Aid is working with – among other partners – BBC Media Action to make sure climate information and advisories reach people living in remote areas, particularly vulnerable groups such as women and girls.
As climate change takes hold, Ethiopia has seen both extreme temperatures and extreme precipitation that causes either droughts or flooding. Finding a way to inform people of coming weather hazards, in languages they understand, is key to improving their resilience, Christian Aid believes.
“We produce 20-minute radio programmes about climate information which include weather forecasts and expert advice to the farmers that help them to cope with climate change and increase productivity,” said Andenet Bayisa, who leads BBC Media Action work on the BRACED project. The programmes are broadcast by local radio stations, in local languages.
The project also plans to use text messaging as a means of getting information out in rural areas.
The National Meteorological Agency (NMA) of Ethiopia, which monitors weather data within eight kilometres of each of its automated weather stations, passes the data to BBC Media Action, which then forwards it to government-funded technical agents who will in turn pass it on to farmers in their area.
Automated weather stations are a new phenomenon in Ethiopia. Nearly 120 are now in place across the country, but more technical assistance and training is needed to make the most of them, experts say.
In a bid to make the climate data a available to farmers even more local – accurate to a radius of four kilometres – the National Meteorological Agency is working with the British Met Service and King’s College London, said Henock Hailu, a meteorologist at the NMA and the agency’s contact for BRACED.
Localised climate information broadcast over the radio includes data on when the rains are expected to start and what kinds of crops farmers should cultivate, as well as other advice to help farmers cope in a changing environment.
The information aims to assist farmers such Koilate Altaye, 42, a mother of seven who lost eight of her cattle to drowning after a heavy rain that followed a long dry season in 2014.
“If I was informed about the climate changes in advance, I would have moved my cattle to another area to save the life of my cattle,” said Altaye. “In addition I also would have stored as much forage for my cattle as possible if I had known the long dry season was coming.”
Once fully operational, $6.7 million project is expected to benefit about 800,000 farmers and their families in 55 provinces across Ethiopia.