Enhancing Resilience to Agricultural Drought in Africa through Improved Communication of Seasonal Forecasts (ERADACS)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Meteorology

Abstract

ERADACS is a novel, multi-disciplinary project that brings together:

- a light-weight but powerful forecast system, state-of-the-art land surface data assimilation using NASA soil moisture data
- new methods for visualizing and communicating forecasts, co-developed with farmers in Africa
- socioeconomic studies on building resilience through early warning and incentivizing action on forecasts

The project will be led by the University of Reading and carried out in partnership the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), a leading Ghanaian university; and Evidence for Development, a well-established NGO.

The impact of agricultural drought on the world's poorest communities can be devastating. Changes in weather patterns due to changing climate can mean that decisions about when to plant and how to manage crops based on experience of weather in recent years are not reliable. Timely forecasts of the developing likelihood of agricultural drought have the potential to have a significant positive impact on the lives of small-scale farmers and their surrounding communities during such events.

The ERADACS project will develop a forecast system for agricultural drought using multiple streams of satellite data, the Met Office land surface model (JULES) and state-of-the-art mathematical techniques (Data Assimilation) to combine these. The resulting forecast will use climatological information from the 30 year TAMSAT data record to predict likely trajectories of rainfall. These seasonal forecasts will be produced across Ghana and made available openly via the TAMSAT website. Beyond the lifetime of the ERADACS project we will sustain the forecast system via the operational TAMSAT platform.

A key aspect of the ERADACS project will be a pilot of how this information might be useful to specific communities in Ghana that are reliant on subsistence farming practices. We will visit and collect socioeconomic information from a number of communities to establish their vulnerability to agricultural drought as well as using serious game play to elicit likely responses. Our forecasts, and their likely uncertainties, will be discussed with the farmers and we will trial different methods of presenting this data. We will use feedback from these groups to refine the means of communication and to tailor the information produced from the forecast system. The work in Ghana will be carried out by KNUST and Evidence for Development, both of whom have many years experience of capacity building in Africa.

Planned Impact

Ghana, like many countries in Africa, experiences severe droughts, which affect the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of farmers across a range of income levels. For a large proportion of these people farming is their primary means of subsistence and hence they are extremely vulnerable to drought.

The agricultural drought forecasts we will provide will ultimately allow decisions to be made regarding the planting and management of crops that take into account the future evolution of the available soil moisture. In the lifetime of the project the farmers themselves will contribute to the design of the forecast system via tailored feedback to the ERADACS team during focus group exercises carried out in several communities. During the focus groups, a range of techniques will be deployed to incentivize farmers to act on early warning. In this way we will directly contribute to building the resilience of these communities to drought events.

In addition to the direct impact on farmer livelihoods in Ghana, the scientific advances promised by ERADACS will facilitate the provision of climate services by agencies in the UK and overseas. Specifically, the datasets generated during the project will be made freely available along with the JULES-EMPIRE data assimilation system and the forecasting software will be released for use within the scientific community. The forecasting and data assimilation system will continue to be run operationally by TAMSAT after the end of the project, guaranteeing long-term, sustainable impact.

The impact of ERADACS will be enhanced by a range of dissemination activities targeted at specific stakeholder groups. These include:

- in-country focus groups to solicit the opinions of farmers using early warning systems
- a project workshop, which will include meteorological service staff
- attendance at the PRESASS regional outlook forum to disseminate project findings to a wider community of meteorological services and policy makers

As well as the traditional academic routes of journal publications, ERADACS will produce outputs aimed at a wider audience, including:
- a policy brief to be presented at the PRESASS meeting
- a dedicated project website
- social media, via the Walker Institute

The ERADACS team is ideally placed to guarantee sustained impact. PI Quaife and Co-I's Black and Cornforth lead operational early warning systems (TAMSAT and Rainwatch) capable of continuing and extending the operational provision of forecast products. The partnerships with an NGO, active in the region and a leading Ghanaian university will also facilitate uptake and continued use of the ERADACS research.

Publications

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Asfaw D (2018) TAMSAT-ALERT v1: A new framework for agricultural decision support in Geoscientific Model Development Discussions

 
Description The ERADACS project has shown that: (1) combination of satellite derived rainfall and soil moisture data is optimal for data assimilation systems designed to improve forecasting the state of available soil moisture to grow plants; (2) careful design of materials used to disseminate forecast data can aid decision making by farmers in drought-prone areas. This work took place in Ghana, with a specific focus on the north. However the techniques developed here are appropriate for use in any drought-prone area where subsistence farming is wide spread.
Exploitation Route (1) The forecast system we have developed is available on GitHub (see information elsewhere in submission). This allows anyone to download and use it to make forecasts with. A manual is included in the repository. (2) Design materials have been developed which will be released shortly, with accompanying academic paper, will allow others to take the output of the forecasting system and to represent them graphically in formats that were researched and agreed upon during the project as a result of participatory workshops.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

 
Description ERADACS was designed as a foundational project to explore ideas around the communication of forecast information and how this can be used to improve decision making. Consequently, tangible impact on the livelihoods of subsistence farmers in Ghana is inevitably negligible because the soil moisture forecasts and communication tools that we developed are not operational. Despite this we have generated ongoing dialogue between many of the main stakeholders and we are confident that this will lead to the implementation of an operational system, albeit funded under different schemes. We now have funding under NERC NCEO, NERC NCAS and Innovate UK that is helping to take these ideas forward.
First Year Of Impact 2017
 
Description NC&C
Amount £284,525 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/R014116/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 12/2019
 
Description Ghana Meteorological Agency 
Organisation Ghana Meteorological Agency
Country Ghana 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We provided forecast estimates and rainfall data directly to GMET for evaluation.
Collaborator Contribution GMET contributed to the production of one of the journal papers arising from the project and attended the final workshop. They also attended weekly Skype meetings during the project.
Impact Asfaw, D., Black, E., Brown, M., Nicklin, K. J., Otu-Larbi, F., Pinnington, E., Challinor, A., Maidment, R., and Quaife, T.: TAMSAT-ALERT v1: A new framework for agricultural decision support, Geosci. Model Dev. Discuss., https://doi.org/10.5194/gmd-2017-316, in review, 2018
Start Year 2017
 
Description KNUST 
Organisation Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST)
Country Ghana 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We coordinated and ran the overall research project. In particular we ran fieldwork in the north of Ghana, which KNUST contributed to. We held weekly Skype meetings with our partners at KNUST.
Collaborator Contribution KNUST were active participants in the ERADACS project in various ways. They helped to run and facilitate socio-economic fieldwork in communities in the north of Ghana, including coordinating logistics and translation as well as contributing directly to the research. They also helped to organise the project final workshop, again coordinating logistics (plane flights, ground transport etc) as well as arranging visas, providing invitation letters and so on. KNUST are actively engaged in the preparation of outputs post-award.
Impact We are currently in the process of finalising reports on which KNUST collaborators will be authors.
Start Year 2017
 
Title TAMSAT Alert V1.0 
Description The TAMSAT-ALERT framework provides a means of deriving quantitative agricultural risk assessments from information on the climatology, historical time series and (optionally) meteorological forecasts. In essence, the system addresses the question: Given the climatology, the state of the land surface, the evolution of the growing season so far, and (optionally) the meteorological forecast, what is the risk of some adverse event? Code is supplied for assessment of purely meteorological metrics, such as cumulative rainfall. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact None so far, but we are beginning to role this out with various Met services in Africa. 
 
Description Workshop in Tamale, Ghana 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We held a workshop in Tamale in the north of Ghana hosted by KNUST (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology) and SARI (the Ghana Savanna Agricultural Research Institute), and physically held at the offices of SARI. It was attended by scientists from SARI and KNUST as well as the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMET) and the Ghana Space Science & Technology Institute (GSSTI). The workshop took place over two days and we discussed the research that had taken place, with a specific focus on how we generated forecast information, how it was communicated (e.g. graphical designs) and the potential of these to enable design making to build resilience to drought events.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017