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Thursday, 24 March 2016

Incorporating traditional weather forecast in agricultural decision making

By Bob Aston
Traditional weather prediction has been widely used by most smallholder farmers to guide their planting, harvesting, livestock farming and other agricultural activities.
Most communities have been predicting rain by observing migratory animals, birds, butterflies and trees shedding leaves. In Mukongodo area of Laikipia County, Mr. Jeremiah Ole Saikong has been predicting weather for the last 20 years through observing goat intestines.
Mr. Jeremiah Ole Saikong observing a goat intestine in order to predict rainfall pattern
Mr. Saikong said that this has been a family gift passed on from generation to generation and they have been able to use the information to advise farming communities on best time to plant, probability of elnino, drought and pending livestock theft.
He said that rainfall and drought are the most critical climatic features in the Maasai community. He said that they constantly monitor the weather pattern by analyzing a he goat intestine, particularly during prolonged drought and disease outbreaks.
On March 23, 2016, Mr. Saikong was at the Agricultural Machineries Services (AMS) in Nyahururu to demonstrate how weather can be predicted through studying goat intestines.
After slaughtering the goat and carefully examining the intestines, he came up with four conclusions. He said that Laikipia County would experience minimal rainfall during the last week of April, his community was about to lose a large herd of livestock through cattle rustling, the day was not good for people appearing in court that day, and cases of children having common cold would reduce.
“The weather pattern changes every day hence today's prediction can be different when another goat is slaughtered tomorrow. The intestine of the goat not only tells us about the weather forecast of the area in which it has been slaughtered but the whole of Laikipia County,” said Mr. Saikong.
He said that they usually inform community members of the predicted forecasts by organizing barazas so that they can prepare for any eventuality.
He noted that despite the important role that they are playing in helping the farming communities, the government has never recognized there role and they are never rewarded for the work that they do.
Laikipia County Kenya Meteorological Department Director, Mr. Simon Gichomo noted that the prediction from the Maasai elder matched their own weather forecast for March, April, and May.
“ We first started by trying to see whether there was any convergence between the traditional weather prediction and the scientific weather forecast and how we can integrate both approaches,” said Mr. Gichomo.
He said that the department has been working with traditional weather forecasts as most farmers and pastoralists believe in traditional methods and disseminating information through them is easier unlike the scientific method, which is difficult for farmers to interpret.
He noted that through Participatory scenario planning (PSP) in Laikipia County, they have been able to build bridges between traditional and scientific knowledge. This has helped in dissemination of weather and climate change advisories.
“Participatory scenario planning has helped to create space for sharing climate information from local and scientific knowledge and finding ways to interpret the information into a form that is locally relevant and useful. This has helped most farmers to incorporate weather forecasting into their farming calendar,” said Mr. Gichomo.
Incorporating traditional and scientific weather forecast in agricultural decision making can play a big role in mitigating farming communities against the effects of climate change.  The information is able to help farmers plan their activities appropriately and decide not only on the type of crop to plant but also when to plant.
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