‘Africa needs support for climate forecasting infrastructure’

The current observation network is only one-eighth the required minimum density over the continent  

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Wednesday 13 April 2022

The devastation caused by Cyclone Idai in the Chimanimani mountains on the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Photo: Wikimedia CommonsThe devastation caused by Cyclone Idai in the Chimanimani mountains on the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe in 2019. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Africa is extremely vulnerable to and bears the brunt of drought, flooding, cyclones and other climate change-led weather events. In fact, every third death (or 35 per cent) from extreme weather, climate or water stress in 50 years was in Africa. 

In 2021, at least 33 million people were affected due to these events.  Under these circumstances, there is a need to strengthen the capacity of African meteorological services. These services can enhance the continent’s climate-resilience, protect lives and livelihoods, and deliver socio-economic benefits too.

Down To Earth spoke to Filipe Lucio, director of the Global Framework for Climate Services, World Meteorological Organization. Edited excerpts:

Kiran Pandey: What is the significance of weather and climate services / forecasting for sustainable agriculture in Africa and the world?


Filipe Lucio: Farming systems are largely driven by weather patterns, especially rainfall seasons. Accurate and timely climate prediction and weather forecasting services are therefore important for facilitating decision-making and delivering early warnings for preparedness and sustainability in the agricultural production and value chain systems.

Climate services provide information to help individuals, governments and organisations make climate / agriculture-smart decisions. Climate information is prepared, interpreted and delivered to meet the local society’s needs.

There has been increased recognition of late for the potential of climate information to support sustainable development and production, enhance preparedness and protect people whose lives and livelihoods are directly impacted by climate risks.

KP: What is the state of weather and climate services / forecasting globally and in Africa?

FL: Africa has improved weather and climate forecasting services. There are specialised regional weather forecasting and regional meteorological training centres on the continent.

Climate outlook forums for consensus building on weather forecasting in the regions are also operational. There is also downscaling of the climate and weather information to local environments.

Gaps specifically exist in certain areas. For instance, there are data gaps in many African countries. The number of data observational stations is on the decline.

The Global Basic Observing Network, approved by the WMO in 2019, aims at overhauling the exchange of international observational data. It needs to expand its services on the continent.

A lot is being done, especially on the installation of automated weather stations.

But, it has been noted that in Africa, the current observation network is only one-eighth the required minimum density over the continent and a large portion of observation infrastructure is in a state of disrepair.

Data recovery and digitisation programmes are required. Support for infrastructure for forecasting such as model development, specialised training for experts is needed.

There is a need to create awareness about climate services uptake across various sectors. Also, there is inadequate communication and interpretation of climate information to last mile end-users.

KP: How and to what extent are farmers accessing and using weather and climate information?

FL: Farmers are accessing and using weather and climate information more than before. Most national meteorological and hydrological services now offer targeted / specialised climate services, especially for the agricultural sector ranging from short, medium to long term forecasts and agro-advisories.

This is disseminated through seminars, mainstream media and social networks including community engagements.

Specifically, in many countries in Africa, farmers access weather information through:

  • Official government departments
  • Official government websites
  • Mainstream media, radio, TV, newspapers
  • Social media
  • Telephone short messaging services
  • Agricultural seminars through agricultural extension officers

However, there are challenges related to the timelines of the information, understanding of technical terms used in forecasts, limited feedback, monitoring and evaluation of the use of climate services and direct financial and technical support to farmers to make use of the available climate services appropriately.

A key aspect is also that multiple communication platforms can be used to target different types of users. For example, messaging apps may be ideal for extension agents, while farmers may prefer radio and face-to-face meetings.

In recent years, there has been an emphasis on ‘coproduction’ of seasonal climate advisories and enhancement of user-interface platforms.

Examples of coproduction include, participatory scenario planning, participatory integrated climate services for agriculture and roving seminars.

User interface platforms provide a structured means for users, researchers and climate service providers to interact at the global, regional and national levels to ensure that user needs for climate services are met and enable effective decision-making in view of climate considerations.

Other challenges that exist include:

  • Weak in-depth understanding of user needs in local contexts
  • Use of heavy scientific language in communicating climate information to the public
  • Inadequate iterative engagement of end users in the weather and climate services value chain
  • High dependence on external support systems
  • Weak ownership of project investments in climate change adaptation and weather and climate services

KP: What impact do weather and climate services / forecasting have on the livelihood of farmers?

FL: Farmers’ livelihoods are cushioned due to the provision of climate services.

Appropriate planting, tending, harvesting storage and processing times are advised and discussed with farmer groups. A lot of losses are alleviated. Better preparedness on part of the farmer, government and other agencies is achieved, especially in times of severe weather episodes.

In a nutshell, weather and climate services / forecasting can influence crop growth, total yield, pest occurrence, water and fertiliser need and all farm activities carried out during the growing season.

So, good yield from the use of climate information boosts the revenue accruable by farmers and therefore enhances their livelihoods.

Today, it can confidently be said that weather and climate services is driving behaviour change and livelihood transformation of farmers through the introduction of climate-smart and climate resilient approaches and technologies.

KP: What is the role of weather and climate services / forecasting in climate adaptation and finance plans?  

FL: Adaptation to climate change is the primary concern of African countries. It is estimated that African countries spend between two and nine per cent of their gross domestic product on adaptation to climate change.

Many of the African countries’ National Determined Contributions (NDCs) are conditional upon receiving adequate financial, technical, and capacity building support.

Overall, Africa will need investments of over $3 trillion in mitigation and adaptation by 2030 to implement its NDCs, requiring significant, accessible and predictable inflows of conditional finance.

Adaptation strategies play a greater role for Africa, in particular sub-Saharan Africa, where economies are particularly dependent on climate-sensitive sectors.

A key component of the required capacities in Africa is an investment in hydro-meteorological systems and services to improve monitoring, predictions and early warning against high-impact hazardous events and tailored information for decision-making in climate-affected sectors such as those prioritised in African NDCs.

Adaptation options are developed and implemented based on the climate information provided such as destocking in times of droughts, use of drought-resilient crops and technologies, seasonal climate predictions to guide cropping calendar, temporary relocation to higher grounds in times of heavy precipitation, to energy production, consumption and storage in agricultural entities.

Climate finance plans and policies in some African countries now follow vulnerability of the areas or regions concerned.

Some countries are legislating around the NDCs to deepen accountability to climate mitigation and adaption targets at national levels and to ensure that weather and climate services are mainstreamed into all revenant governance activities to support climate change adaptation and climate-resilient practices.

Some countries also have climate change governance committees or groups at local levels making advisory decisions on locally led climate initiatives.

Weather and climate services will support climate change adaption to integrate cities and human settlements with upstream safety, preventive and civil protection management practices and infrastructure to minimise the effects of disasters.

KP: What is being done to strengthen and improve meteorological services globally and in Africa?

FL: WMO and the members of the Alliance for Hydromet Development are establishing a Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF) as they recognise the need for financial and technical assistance to address the challenges of sustaining observing infrastructure in Africa.

SOFF will provide long-term support for the collection and sharing of meteorological observations in compliance with the WMO Global Basic Observing Network.

Various regional economic commissions across Africa have committees established to oversee policy development in meteorology and are establishing regional climate centres to support national meteorological and hydrological services (NMHS) within their regions.

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