Humankind has not yet discovered a way to prevent drought entirely. Hence, the provision of timely and accurate climate and weather information can help rural and semiurban producers to better prepare for and mitigate the effects of insufficient precipitation (IRI, 2001). Communicating drought information to remote rural populations, however, has been a major challenge in Africa (Stern and Easterling, 1999). Seasonal rainfall forecasts, precipitation, and stream flow monitoring products, key environmental information, and even lifesaving early warnings are commonly trapped in the information bottleneck of Africa's capital cities, due to the relative lack of infrastructure in rural areas (Glantz, 2001). Without access to reliable communication networks, the majority of Africa's farmers and herders are cut off from the scientific and technological advances that support agricultural decision-making in other parts of the world.
Before the proliferation of radios, cell phones, and televisions, Africans used local methods—interpreting wind speed and direction, cloud formations, vegetation, and insect and bird migrations, for example—to predict weather patterns and the advent or cessation of precipitation. This chapter describes a Radio and Internet (RANET; http://www.ranetproject.net) system for communicating drought information to the rural communities in Niger and Uganda. This system was developed under a disaster mitigation program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
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