Finding rainfall: Radio, technology and climate change

broadcaster interviews farmer about the effects of climate change in life

Peter Kakanji brushes his teeth, using bristles of a stick as a toothbrush. He looks to the sky for signs of imminent rainfall because he heard last night on the radio that it would rain today. 

“The rains started early this year and it’s still raining in several parts of the country, following the same pattern as broadcast on the radio,” he says.

Peter is a pastoralist who lives in Mairowa village in Longido district, about 90 kilometres north of Arusha in northern Tanzania. He herds 150 goats, 120 sheep, and 80 cows, but pasture is limited. To keep his herds healthy, Peter moves them throughout the year, looking for better water and grazing.

In northern Tanzania farmers like Peter are seeing the effects of climate change.

Too much rain means their fields flood. Too little rain, and those who raise animals need to move their herds. For many, there is little to no warning of which they need to do, leaving them scrambling when weather isn’t what they expect. For many, there is little to no warning of extreme weather, leaving them scrambling when things aren’t what they expect. 

Today, the weather they face is more extreme than ever. That’s why Farm Radio International, in partnership with the World Food Programme, developed the Climate and Weather Information Services for Farmers project last year. 

The two partners worked in collaboration with the Tanzania Meteorological Authority, three radio stations, and district and local extension workers in three districts in Northern Tanzania to take weather forecasts, interpret them, translate them into local languages, and explain what that meant for farmers—all through both radio and mobile phones.

For decades, Peter and his family of 14 have been practicing traditional grazing, travelling from place to place in order to access enough pasture land. But changes in rainfall patterns have cost him as he moves from one place to another.

Peter says compared to normal weather broadcasts, the information he receives is more extensive. Extension workers provide guidance on the rains and recommend good agricultural practices and advice on when to prepare fields and on the best seeds to plant.

Getting climate information to farmers

The project had several different elements. Radio programs on Radio Sauti ya Injili, Orkonerei Radio, and Radio Irangi, produced climate-smart farming radio shows, broadcast twice a week to more than 4 million potential listeners.

The stations also recorded AgriTips, short statements and jingles with useful information, in Swahili and Maasai so that no matter the language, listeners could understand. The tips would be broadcast through the week, along with up-to-date weather information. 

At the same time, we used interactive voice response phone lines that farmers could call to get information, and text messages that we sent to subscribers to make sure weather information direct from the Tanzania Meteorological Authority, alongside corresponding agriculture and herding advice, was always accessible to farmers that needed it. 

Our “Beep4Weather” phone system that allowed farmers to call in and get direct access to weather forecasts, saw an astounding 42,925 interactions over the course of the project.

Ensuring women farmers are not left behind

In particular, the project also looked to support women farmers. Women are uniquely vulnerable to climate change. Responsible for feeding their families, they can be disproportionately affected when climate change makes life more difficult — and often have fewer resources to use in recovery. Of those displaced by climate change, 80 per cent are also women, according to the UN. 

“One unique thing about this project was how gender issues were addressed,” says Erimelinda Temba, the project manager for Farm Radio in Tanzania. “We were able to involve women from formative research to actual programming.” 

When we worked with local farmers so they could tell us what to include in the programs, women were consulted about what topics they needed. When the programs were brought on air, we ensured those topics were included. When call lines were set up, we made sure women could call in. And when broadcasters played the voices of farmers on the air, we made sure women were represented.

Rahel Oleselea is one female farmer who listened to the programs. The widow and mother of six children and four grandchildren is a pastoralist in Oletesi village in Longido district. She says easy access to weather information through radio and mobile phones helped her plan how much feed she needs to buy for her cattle.

“I was planning to increase and keep more feed for my cattle since it had not started raining, but this plan is no more. I received the information that it would be raining and we were advised to start returning to our permanent homes with our livestock.”

Farm Radio also worked with community listening groups who would listen together, discuss what they heard, and receive weather reports directly to their phone. Of the 60 community listening groups that were formed, 38 were women only.

450,000 listeners to climate radio programs

The project made strides to ensure other vulnerable groups were also not left out.

While Swahili and English are the national languages of Tanzania, there are pockets of other, local languages. Where the project took place, much of the population, and especially pastoralists and herders, is Massai, and speak the Massai language.

Overall, an estimated 450,000 people listened to the programs in northern Tanzania, proving that, like for farmers across the world, climate change is an ongoing challenge, and one we must work together to solve. 

Parts of this story and original reporting were done by Sylivester Domasa, for an article in Barza Wire, our biweekly newswire for broadcasters in Africa. Read that article here.

The Climate and Weather Information Services for Farmers project was a project running from 2019 to 2020 by Farm Radio International, thanks to funding from the World Food Programme. The aim was to provide farmers and pastoralists in three districts of northern Tanzania with effective, gender-equal and listener-responsive weather services via interactive radio, mobile services, and community listening groups.

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