By Pius Sawa
EMUHAYA, Kenya (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - It is the top of the hour at ten o’clock in the morning and, broadcasting from the top of Esibila hill in Western Kenya, Moses Ombogo is telling farmers to prepare for early rains.
“My dear listener, mother, father, grandma, grandpa, uncle and aunt, we are happy to inform you that the rains have now come and you should be preparing to start planting,” he says.
Down the slope, 80-year-old Mariam Omulama is holding a blue radio with a long aerial. The radio has a winding handle to power it, and a solar panel to charge the built-in battery. She is tuned to Anyole 101.2 Fm – Ombogo’s station.
Nganyi RANET - it stands for “Radio Internet” – is a community radio station set up by the Kenya Meteorological Service to target communities particularly vulnerable to climate extremes. Each station can broadcast in a range of 25-30 kilometers (15-19 miles), and listeners within the zone are given free radio sets.
The other part of the station’s name comes from the Nganyi clan, which for many years has predicted rains locally by monitoring the behavior of plants, birds and insects. As climatic conditions become more erratic, however, some of those traditional indicators are failing.
“There was this demand for reliable climate information to enable farmers to be able to work. So we thought it was a good opportunity to bring together the meteorological people and the traditional people who have relied on indigenous knowledge to make forecasts,” said Evans Kituyi, a senior program specialist for the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA), funded by the International Development Research Center of Canada and the UK Department for International Development.
The first rains of Emuhaya traditionally have come in February, and this is about the time that farmers usually plant crops. But this year every farmer held on a little longer.
That's because the radio station predicted that sufficient rainfall for planting would begin around March 22, “so I can begin planting from the 23rd onward,” said Enos Matende, one farmer.
The radio channel has been providing accurate weather information in local language for about nine months, he said.
Meanwhile, in the neighboring county of Busia, a similar community radio station is helping reduce deaths and property damage caused by the floods along the Nzoia River.
“We monitor the rain-collecting centers on the hills of Cherangani, Mount Elgon and Kakamega. The normal level of water should be (below) 5.3 meters (17 feet) from the base. When the water reaches this level we start getting warnings”, said Samuel Enos Namuleli, a meteorologist in charge of RANET Bulala Fm radio in Budalangi.
The government has built 6-metre-high (19-feet-high) dikes along the river to hold back floodwater. When the water level creeps too high – between 5.6 and 5.8 meters – people are warned via the radio station to evacuate.
Each hour, the station passes on weather information and information about the environment.
“We are reaching more people quickly and clearly. We are also integrating this with other development issues. We are bringing in experts from the ministries of agriculture, livestock, health and education, among others, and these people can be able to enrich the forecasts which are both traditional and scientific based,” said Samuel Mwangi, senior assistant director at the Kenya Meteorological Service.
Farmers say the information they are getting has helped them to plan well.
“I used to harvest one bag of maize, but now I harvest four and I used to harvest two bags of sorghum but I now harvest eight,” said Fridah Ambunya Bulimo, a farmer in Emuhaya.
Nganyi RANET radio also has a digital weather station that automatically relays weather information each 10 minutes, with the same message sent to the headquarters in Nairobi.
Communities "are not just told it will rain here and there. They are told it will rain in this manner or there will be no rain, so don’t plant this time or plant this and that. Or if it will be flooding down the valley, the schools there can be told in advance to organize how they will have their classes in a different school”, Kituyi said.
There are now five RANET radio stations in Kenya where the climate change impacts are particularly strong. One, in Narok, is focused on worsening drought problems; in Kagema the problem is landslides; and in Kwale the station provides information on both droughts and occasional flash floods.
“It is through this radio that we are able to educate them,” said Namuleli, of RANET Radio in Budalangi.
(Reporting by Pius Sawa; editing by Laurie Goering)