Drought warning information service for northeast Kenya farmers

Source: Mon, 11 Mar 2019 03:58 PM
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Kenya’s National Disaster Management Authority issued a public warning in Marsabit County in February last year warning the population of a three-month prolonged period of drought. For Dibo Roba, whose family lives in Marsabit County and relies on livestock, drought has been a perennial threat but is becoming more ferocious.

“Every year drought is stronger and lasts for longer periods, threatening the lives of more and more people as water and food sources get smaller,” Dibo comments.  “To prepare for drought and keep livestock alive during these periods, people rely mainly on word-of-mouth information. This is how people predict when drought will hit and for how long. When the government issues a public warning, it is often too late for people to take preventative measures.”

Identifying a need more for accurate, early warning climate information, Dibo Roba, Roba Godana, Armara Galwab, Moses Thuranira, all from Marsabit County, formed the Climate Information Pastoral Unit (CIPU) to explore how to get this information to the people who need it most. The team, made up of livestock experts, climate specialists and IT professionals, is currently building an online information management system designed to pull data from multiple sources and create public messaging.

Last year, the team succeeded in securing funding and support through Maarifa Kona  – an innovation lab set up under the Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme, jointly managed by CDAC Network  and Start Network. Funding and technical support offered by Maarifa Kona will see the team through an incubation phase to develop and test the service.

Earlier this year, CIPU along with 12 other innovator teams presented solutions to reduce harm caused by drought to a panel of judges at a Maarifa Kona demonstration day event in Nairobi. CIPU succeeded in securing the additional support to grow the business and attract investors.  

For Dibo Roba and his team, the road ahead is tough. Operating in rural northeast Kenya presents a number of challenges to connect people, share information and communicate. Many different languages are spoken in the region so information needs to be translated multiple times, he explains.

Despite the fact Kenya’s mobile penetration level has hit over 80 per cent, people in rural areas in the northeast of the country have intermittent connectivity and very limited Internet access, this is particularly the case for nomadic, pastoralist communities. Local radio and word-of- mouth are the most popular ways to receive and share information in rural areas. Dibo recognises that the service also needs to cater for these audiences too.   

Gathering and verifying data from disparate sources and turning it into actionable information in local dialects shared via SMS and through other channels like local radio requires coordination and different expertise at various stages of the process. Dibo and his team plan to set up an information centre to coordinate and process climate-related data and create timely messages in suitable formats sent out via the different channels.

To do this, Dibo highlights the importance of working in close collaboration with the people who will potentially make use of the service, to build on their knowledge and skills in designing a system fit for purpose. “We are incorporating indigenous knowledge experts as part of our information system - people with first-hand experience of managing crops and livestock through the drought season. This aspect really is the uniqueness of our innovation.” 

“People have told us they welcome a joined-up information system so they can take decisions ahead of the drought season to protect their livestock, their crops and families,” says Dibo. We are looking to build strong partnerships to move this forward.”

The Climate Information Pastoral Unit is among more than forty solutions initiated and led by people living in high-risk disaster zones in Bangladesh, Kenya and Jordan under the Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP), which is funded by UK Aid. The programme supports four country innovation labs that give priority to local knowledge and expertise to reduce disaster risks through initiatives and businesses rooted in communities.

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