"The Nganyi clan is known for being gifted in predicting rain. But they have faced challenges recently in delivering accurate forecasts, perhaps due to rapid climatic changes. As a result they have been losing people's trust....At the same time, the meteorological department's forecasts were not trusted by the locals because their predictions were not always accurate."
To mark World Meteorological Day on March 23 2015, Kenya Meteorological Services (KMS) launched a resource centre and radio station in western Kenya to disseminate weather and climate information. Created by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), Nairobi, Kenya, the Nganyi RANET radio station and resource centre emerged from Climate Change Adaptation in Africa (CCAA), wherein communities, institutions, and individuals in Vihiga County, in western Kenya collaborated to build their capacity to manage climate risk. The project was carried out through action research that was meant to demystify the symbolic codes of indigenous knowledge (IK) and link it to modern-day science practices, as well as to identify good indigenous adaptation practices/knowledge and integrate them with modern-day scientific strategies for sustainable climate risk management strategies. (IK could be described, for instance, as the appearance of frequent and many spider webs being signs of good rainfall.) It is hoped that traditional knowledge will be better understood and valued, scientific knowledge will be increased, and communities at risk from climate change will have more reliable information in local languages to help them protect their health and livelihoods.
This process began with research. Qualitative approaches were considered more appropriate in eliciting confidential information from Nganyi community climate change observations using indigenous observatories. To facilitate this, a household questionnaire specially structured to elicit relevant information was constructed. The second approach was the Socio-Economic and Gender Analysis (SEAGA) approach based on a review of socio-economic patterns and participatory identification of the communities' priorities. The aim of this was to facilitate and improve the packaging and communication of IK integrated seasonal climate forecasts in the community. The sampled 500 households were stratified by gender and age to facilitate access to information from actual weather predictors and the users of their predicted information. Modern-day monthly rainfall and temperature data from 1959 for Kakamega and Kisumu stations were collected from the Kenya meteorological archives. Data from other closer stations (not synoptic) were also collected for analysis. The data collected was used to do a schematic comparison of IK and modern-day climate science methodologies, and a simple matrix clarifying the techniques and approaches used by IK and modern-day science in knowledge generation and interpretation was developed. The data collection for this activity was accomplished through questionnaire interviews and focus group discussions (FGDs). Analyses of language taxonomy and oral tradition texts such as songs, stories, proverbs, and other common sayings were done. Evidence culled from these sources was used to demonstrate that IK knowledge of weather and climatic conditions are reflected in indigenous spiritual beliefs and symbols.
During the first stage, the project team (including the Nganyi Core Group - the practitioners) and a group of invited experts held a one-day workshop during which they discussed the project activities in detail and developed plans of action and the implementation strategy. During the morning of the next day, the project team presented the project to the Nganyi community leaders and obtained their go-ahead before later presenting the project to the larger Nganyi community at a community meeting (baraza). The larger Nganyi community also gave their go-ahead for the project.
Outcome mapping training was conducted, where a draft monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework was developed - later finalised through subsequent participatory meetings. Community mobilisation was a hallmark of the process, which started with the presentation and explanation of the project objectives and activities to the larger Nganyi community leaders, including leaders of community-based organisations (CBOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) active in the area.
After an ICPAC-led Climate Outlook Forum produced a seasonal forecast for September to December 2008, downscaled for local use by KMS, climate scientists and Nganyi forecasters met to develop a consensus forecast for the region. The IK scientists revealed the list of indicators they use in forecasting and discussed with botanists, zoologists, and astronomers the way they use them. They participated in the consensus forecast activities that integrated the IK and modern-day climate forecasts. With the help of local government officials and development agencies, the harmonised forecast was then converted into advisories concerning community health and agriculture for the coming season. The integrated forecast and advisories were translated into local languages and disseminated to the larger community at a church compound meeting. They were aired on the Luhya language service of Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and Mulembe FM radio, accompanied by interviews with a community leader.
The Nganyi people and scientists worked together to develop a common approach to forecasting weather for up to three months, and then to communicate the information. The Nganyi RANET radio station, established by KMS in areas vulnerable to climate extremes, serves a radius of 25-30 kms in areas vulnerable to climate extremes. Messages are conveyed through drama and vernacular radio. It broadcasts weather and climate change news. "We get people from a certain community and train them from our headquarters. We send the weather forecasts from the headquarters through email and SMS [text messaging]," says Hannah Kimani, a senior KMS meteorologist. They are then able to broadcast the weather in the local language. Some 20 people have since been hired and trained to run the daily operations at the radio station. To boost access, KMS distributed radio handsets with an inbuilt solar power generator and wind-up system to communities.
Building trust between scientists and rainmakers was a key part of the research process. (In many parts of rural Africa, there are elders who are sometimes known as "rainmakers" because some community members believe they not only foretell when the rains may come but can make them happen. In western Kenya, Nganyi clan members are renowned for these abilities. Behind the mystique lies a body of knowledge passed down through the generations, based on close observation and understanding of weather patterns and the behaviour of local plant and animal life.) The research team brought on board the Kenya Intellectual Property Institute and national museums to protect specimens of local flora and fauna and to ensure that community ownership of the knowledge is respected. The local Member of Parliament and other civic leaders got involved, and they committed to help protect and rehabilitate "shrines" of local flora and fauna used by the rainmakers. A range of mentoring and micro-credit activities for women and youth are designed to add to the benefits for the local community.
In addition, the Nganyi's IK is now available through a book, Coping with Local Disasters Using Indigenous Knowledge: Experiences from Nganyi Community of Western Kenya. Hezekiah Musungu says he and other Nganyi have traveled to Egypt and Zanzibar to talk about rain prediction and climate change. "The greatest impact is that we have now distanced ourselves from the old way of doing things. We are now at the table. We discuss things."
Over the course of the CCAA programme, from 2006-2012, researchers in 33 African countries harnessed climate knowledge and information with the intent to enable people to take action. IDRC documents the CCAA story in "New Pathways to Resilience" [PDF].
ICPAC is mandated by 10 governments in the Greater Horn of Africa to provide timely early warning information to help the region cope with the risks of extreme climate variability and change. Through its research, ICPAC hopes to link vulnerable groups to both policymakers and development partners. Agrometeorologist Jasper Mwesigwa has been translating weather forecast information into agricultural advisories, through ICPAC. He says farmers are now able to increase yields and reduce conflicts in homes. "By using climate information, the farmers have increased yields three to four times. Where they used to produce one bag of maize, they now produce four. And where they used to produce two bags of sorghum, they now produce eight and above."
KMS senior assistant director Samuel Mwangi says: "We are now broadening our reach. For the Nganyi community, they had to pass on this information by word of mouth, but with the radio station we are able to broadcast this to a wider community. So we are reaching more people quickly and more clearly, and with the integrated approach we are able to influence change and inspire development within the region."
IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) managed this project, which is being carried out by the Kenya Meteorological Services (KMS). The Nganyi resource centre and radio station grew out of the 2006-2012 Climate Change Adaptation in Africa programme, jointly funded by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID)
Emails from Kelly Haggart to The Communication Initiative on November 2 2015 and November 18 2015; "Nganyi Community Resource Centre: Community Radio Station Broadcasts Weather Forecasts, Climate Change News to Farmers in Kenya", accessed on November 4 2015; IDRC website, accessed on November 4 2015; "Linking traditional and modern forecasting in Western Kenya"; and "Integrating Indigenous Knowledge in Climate Risk Management to Support Community Based Adaptation: Final Technical Report" [PDF], by Prof. Laban Ogallo, November 9 2010 (accessed on November 4 2015). Image caption/credit: The meteorological officer discusses weather and climatic indicators with the rainmakers in the community. DFID