09 Jun 2010
Meteorologists and indigenous weather experts from the Nganyi people of western Kenya team up to protect crops
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Meteorologists and indigenous weather experts team up to protect crops
For generations, the Nganyi people of western Kenya have been employed as rainmakers’, helping their communities decide when best to prepare the land and sow seeds. By observing subtle changes in nature, which go unnoticed by most people ñ air currents, bird songs, termite behaviour, the flowering and shedding of leaves, even the croaking of frogs and toads ñ they have been able to interpret weather patterns and provide advice.
However, in recent years, the Nganyi communities ñ whose existence depends exclusively on subsistence farming, have been bewildered by climate change, its rotating cycles of droughts and floods, and its devastating effects on yields.
‘It’s come on so fast so people don’t know how to adapt and what to plant,’ says Obedi Osore, a traditional Nganyi weather forecaster. ‘All of our crops are disappearing because they cannot handle the new conditions.’
Recognising that a new strategy was needed, a British-Canadian project has combined the indigenous method of forecasting with western scientific models, to build climate change knowledge and communicate the information within the local community.
Previously, meteorologists found their weather warnings went unheeded. The locals were wary of outsiders claiming to know better and speaking the technical language of satellites and computer systems. But the credibility of the Nganyi forecasters was also being undermined by the erratic effects of global warming. ‘Predicting intense weather is very hard because it always happens so suddenly,’ says rainmaker Thomas Osare, who admits the traditional process of collating information is slow. ‘We cannot usually know in time for people to prepare.’
Now, meteorologists collaborate with the indigenous weathermen each season to share their predictions and produce a consensus forecast. Once approved, the Nganyi relay it back to the villagers in the appropriate local languages, through traditional ceremonies and meetings.
‘It brings me great joy because I know that I’m doing something useful,’ says Mr Onunga, a community elder involved in the project. ‘I think the two sciences are equally valid. We are marrying our energies to help people better.’
The meteorologists are also pleased with the collaboration and the results so far have been good: the forecasts from both sources have been accurate, local weather warnings have been communicated successfully, the rainmakers’ role has been restored and the local farmers are able to better protect their crops.
Contact: The UK Department for
1 Palace Street, London, SW1E 5HE
Tel: 0845 300 4100 (UK only)
Tel: +44 (0) 1355 84 3132 (outside UK)
Thomas Osore Omulako, 74, a senior rainmaker in the Nganyi community, shows the group of trees that mark the holy shrine where he performs his forecasting activities
Photo: © Department for International Development /Thomas Omondi
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