Traditional weather knowledge essential for building resilience

By: Marie Clarisse Chanoine

From July 6th to 14th I took part in the Learning Route on Natural Resources Management and Climate Change Adaptation organised in Kenya by PROCASUR. Through peer to peer learning and exchange of experiences, PROCASUR wishes to scale up home-grown innovative solutions to end rural poverty.

The Learning Route’s participants. Procasur ©

Developed in partnership with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), CARE- Kenya, CGIAR- Research Programme on Climate Change and Food Security (CCAFS), this route was a great opportunity to gather together seventeen professionals involved in IFAD-funded projects from four different countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho and Rwanda. We all work with smallholder farmers in different projects and different areas, from dairy commercialization to forestry, climate adaptation in value chains, small scale irrigation, and protection and conservation of natural resources. However, we share the same concern for rural communities  impacted by  climate change and we were excited to learn more about Kenyan strategies to increase beneficiaries’ adaptive capacities and resilience.

On a seven day road trip, we visited three projects that were illustrated to us by the project team and the members of beneficiary communities. We first visited  the Upper Tana Natural resources management project (UTANRMP) - IFAD funded project which employs  an integrated approach that includes: school greening, small scale irrigation , water resources users association, plantation establishment and a livelihoods improvement scheme. Then we saw an intervention of CARE Kenya called the Adaptation Learning Programme (ALP) and the last stop was  the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Programme (CCAFS) pilot project on provision of localized climate information for climate change adaptation strategies.

The Upper Tana project promotes an integrated approach that aims to improve livelihoods through  effective natural resource management. The project demonstrates that small investments in livelihoods improvement have a significant impact on natural resource management. With the school greening component, for example, we learnt that the establishment of environmental awareness is crucial for Natural Resource Management (NRM), especially during  early  childhood development when it is easier to influence attitudes and mind-set. Indeed, these pupils were ambassadors of natural resource management initiatives at community and household levels.          
Our journeys on the bus. Procasur ©

It’s important to note that climate change  does not always affect farmers with the same intensity and duration. In fact, different impacts can be observed within a radius of 5 kilometres. For centuries the population has been coping with local climate variability and have elaborated strategies based on their own traditional weather forecast systems. However, climate change is now worsening  historical climate conditions. This helped me to understand the difference between climate variability, which has always existed, and climate change, which is persistent disruptions in climate characteristics.

The CARE and  CCAFS projects are interventions that aim at understanding intersections , synergies and trade-offs between climate change, agriculture and pastoralism. By meeting and visiting communities involved in these projects, I understood the need to blend traditional climate knowledge with meteorological weather forecasts. These different forecasts are complementary: While the former gives localized and short term predictions,  the latter  provides long term forecasts that  are based on more complex factors. However, it is important that climate/weather information are shared in formats that smallholders farmers and rural dwellers can understand (in local language and using different media).

One of the approaches that I found most interesting when dealing with climate change is the use of  “participatory scenario planning”. Climate and weather information have to be localized and data has to be collected regularly at local level (i.e. through rain gauges), then information is exchanged between local weather keepers and meteorological services. While meteorological services receive feedback to improve weather forecast, communities learn to translate scientific weather forecast into practical daily agricultural or livestock management strategies. Thus, the participatory scenario planning is an opportunity for both meteorological service staff and local population to collect precise information and make it useful for the local population through seasonal activities planning.

Every project visit carried vibrant discussions with beneficiaries’ communities not to mention within our group. Our journey on  the bus from one  project to another was not  restful, but devoted to stimulating question and answer sessions in which everyone was excited to share their own experience and feedback on the projects.