By Gerald Tenywa
For the last 10 years, seasons have been changing that it has become difficult to tell when the rains will come. This is why Robert Lwanga, a resident of Kyangogolo in Nabiswera sub-county, Wakiso district has turned to technology to tell weather patterns.
“I have to check my mobile phone every morning before I do anything else,” Lwanga says with a smile.
“I get accurate information on my mobile phone and plan in advance. I know when it is going to rain.”
Lwanga also gets information about market prices on his mobile phone.
“I cannot sell my produce at a low price because I know the going rate,” he says.
Lwanga says because of the prolonged dry spell, many farmers have fallen prey to ruthless middlemen.
The middlemen ride on the farmers’ ignorance and exploit them.
But Lwanga says the timely release of information on weather and market prices on cellphones belonging to 60 farmers like Lwanga is helping them to adapt to the changing times.
“I prepare in advance before the rain or dry spell comes,” said Lwanga, adding that the weather information is reliable.
“I know when to plough my garden, buy seed and harvest.”
In recent years, the rains come when they are not expected and this has led to agricultural losses.
Many farmers in Uganda depend on rain to grow crops.
“The surprises of unexpected rain no longer hit my pocket,” says Lwanga.
Patrick Kibaya, a researcher with the Climate Change Adoptation ICT(CHAI), says the information sent to the farmers is more accurate than national weather forecast, which are too general to guide the farmers.
The principal investigators of the CHAI project are Berhane Gebru, FHI 360's TechLab Program Director, and Dr. Edison Mworozi from Uganda Chartered HealthNet (UCH).
Funded by IDRC, the project is implemented by UCH, FHI 360, the Ministry of Water and Environment's Climate Change Unit, Meteorology Department, Wetlands Management and Directorate of Water Resources; and Makerere University.
Apart from Nakasongola, CHAI covers Soroti and Sembabule district, sitting along the cattle corridor, which is Uganda’s dry land belt.
The dry belt is plagued by water shortages that trigger migrations of cattle keepers to large water bodies such as Lake Kyoga.
Also, flooding and outbreaks of diseases among livestock, plants and humans is increasing in the cattle corridor.
Sekyanzi checks the rain gauge. Photo by Gerald Tenywa
How CHAI’s weather forecast works
At Nabiswera village in Nabiswera sub-county, Fred Sekyanzi collects data from a rain gauge station.
He uses his cellphone, which has been installed with a software programme to transmit the data to the meteorology department in Kampala.
This is part of data that is used to get information reflecting the local situation at Nabiswera and helps to predict more accurately the weather conditions.
Before cellphones, Sekyanzi used to collect data for a month and send it to Kampala with Post Bus or through the environment officer, who would deliver it to the meteorology department.
In 2012, CHAI changed data processing with introduction of digital technology that is available on cellphones.
The data is processed to get weather information for a period of 10 days.
The information is sent by sms (short messaging services) on the cellphones of 60 farmers in Nakasongola.
The CHAI team also uses trusted communicators such as churches, mosques, schools and opinion leaders to spread the message.
More modern technologies needed
The farmers have for decades reduced the size of the herds of cattle depending on the seriousness of the drought in order to reduce the cost of looking after them.
In addition to market information provided by CHAI, the farmers are also being connected to service providers with technologies such as low cost rain water harvesting, water conservation technologies and fast maturing crops.
“We link farmers to institutions with the relevant technologies,” says Kibaya.
CHAI has said the dry conditions are likely to continue to March.
The good thing is Lwanga and the other farmers who received the information on their cellphones know that the clouds that were forming in the sky were creating false hope.