We love discussing the weather in the UK and many of us tune into the forecast without a second thought.
But for many people in low to mid-income countries this information is often not readily available and yet, it is in these communities that good weather data has the potential to change lives.
Two thirds of the population in sub-Saharan Africa are dependent on small-scale farming as the main source of their income and their produce is key to food security.
But a successful harvest is dependent on highly variable climatic factors, such as how much rain falls and when, and the timing and likelihood of extreme events such as dry spells and floods.
With their livelihoods and their welfare on the line, what to plant and when can be a difficult and risky decision for farmers.
It’s a global challenge, but one to which – with the support of generous people like you – researchers at Reading are helping to mobilise a local response.
The Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture (PICSA) project places farmers at the heart of its approach.
Working with national and regional agencies, researchers aim to improve access to historic climate data and seasonal forecasts – information that often has not been readily available previously – and combine it with farmers’ local knowledge.
Together with local extension workers, farmers can then explore crop, livestock and livelihood options within their local climate context, and make more informed decisions.
The life-changing impact of data
Thanks to your generosity and that of PICSA’s institutional donors, farmers have been able to use data to make changes to their practice and increase their yields and incomes.
And for many, this has greatly improved their quality of life and positively impacted their families and communities.
For example, one farmer in northern Ghana decided to change the variety of maize he grew, which resulted in a larger yield. With the additional money he was able to feed his family, purchase a goat and contribute to his daughter’s school fees.
Another farmer in Malawi was able to sustain her extended family following a difficult season when many others faced failed harvests. Using conservation farming techniques and a different variety of crop, she even had enough income to send her daughter to school and invest in new varieties of crops for the following year.
The global demand for PICSA
In 2011, researchers at Reading were working with local people in Zimbabwe to gather regional climate data and farmers quickly saw that there was also potential to inform their decision-making.
Since then, our alumni and supporter community has played a crucial role in helping roll PICSA to reach more than 100,000 farmers in 20 countries worldwide, from the Caribbean and South America to Bangladesh.
This number is set to rise rapidly following a recent gift from a generous anonymous donor, which will enable the team to employ a project manager to work with more countries and reach further farmers – ultimately empowering them to improve their lives, their families’ and their communities.
And that’s the true power of a weather forecast.