PULLMAN, Wash. — To find out how much to plant and what crop to plant, farmers need to know the weather. In Africa, weather influences how households decide to farm and the amount of household income coming from crop sales. When rains fail or prolong, livelihoods are lost.
Since its birth in 2010, the Trans-African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory (TAHMO) has been working to bring the importance of weather data to the continent’s agricultural intensification efforts. TAHMO forges partnerships with the public and private sector to bring climate data to underserved regions. Through this collaboration, it aims to cover sub-Saharan Africa with 20,000 weather stations.
The project was launched by John Selker, professor at Oregon State University and Nick van de Giesen, professor at Delft University of Technology, after finding a gaping hole in surface-based monitoring. For the last few years, TAHMO, together with METER Group, Inc. USA, formerly Decagon Devices, have been working to develop technology to fill the gap in a way that minimizes maintenance and costs associated with data collection.
And now, thanks to an innovative device developed with METER Group, TAHMO is looking to accelerate its activities.
“These things are not top priorities often times,” said Selker of weather monitoring. As a result, “we are seeing a declining observation of climate in Africa.”
Weather stations feed forecast models and increase our understanding of climate, said van de Giesen. “How can you do good agriculture in a place when you do not know how much rain there is? How reliable it is? What the variability is? What the sunshine is? What the temperature is? All these things you need to know in some detail to make optimal use of the enormous potential that this continent has.”
Roughly 1.2 billion people live in Africa today. The population of the continent, which grew by 30 million between 2014 and 2015, is expected to double in the next 30 years. The United Nations projects the worldwide population to reach 9 billion over the same period. To meet growing demand, farming practices in the sub-Saharan will need to get better.
Today Africa is only getting a fraction of its potential yields. The continent, which is primed for growth, is in many parts struggling to feed its growing population.
“In Africa the opportunity to improve yields is phenomenal,” said Selker. “In the U.S., we struggle for 20 percent more yields; there it will be a factor of three to five. So there are real great opportunities for improvement in yield there.”
A lack of access to weather information and how to use that information for production gains holds farmers back. Many countries in Africa have weather stations, but there is an underreporting of the data. In 2015, only a small number were reporting in real-time to the World Meteorological Organization.
Providing a reliable source of weather information gives farmers some degree of certainty and helps make fields profitable.
“One of the greatest opportunities for feeding the world as we meet this situation with over-consumption of groundwater [is Africa],” said Selker. Responding to growing food security issues is a key mission for TAHMO.
As weather patterns become more variable, facilitating the open exchange of localized climate data will make farmers more resilient. TAHMO and its partners are calling on governments, private companies, and the public to take part in the initiative. METER Group, Inc. USA has launched a funding app that lets anyone participate. Learn more about the app and other ways you can get involved at meter.ly/tahmo657c.