Forewarned is forearmed
MetadataShow full item record
CTA. 2005. Forewarned is forearmed. Spore 116. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47964
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore116.pdf
In agriculture, as in life, prevention is better than cure. Studies show that for every dollar spent on disaster preparedness, between US$100 and US$1000 are needed after the event. ACP nations are learning to anticipate risk, rather than sit back and wai
In the Kouthiaba region of Senegal, herders are using global positioning systems linked to satellites to track the movements of livestock. Some have cell phones to alert them to problems of pasture quality or over-crowding. They may not know it, but these cyber shepherds are part of a growing trend in agriculture. With the advent of increasingly sophisticated information technology, more and more emphasis is being placed on the idea that prevention is better than cure. As the December 2004 tsunami disaster illustrated so tragically, early warning systems can save both lives and money. It is estimated that thousands of those killed would have survived if there had been an early warning system in the Indian Ocean, as there is in the Pacific. For agriculture, a bewildering array of networks exists, aimed at heading off crises before they hit. The Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) monitors food production, stocks, trade and export prices around the globe, and looks at other tell-tale signs of problems on the horizon, such as unusual sales of livestock or consumption of wild foods. Linked to this service, the Emergency Prevention System (EMPRES) for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases issues alerts of imminent livestock epidemics. Another arm of the EMPRES network, much in the news in recent months is the Desert Locust Information Service, which offers information about threats of upsurges, using computer technology to track the movement of locusts. But it is one thing to issue early warnings, and another to get action. Donors are notoriously slow to respond, and governments may lack the ability to move swiftly. As a result, forecasting can be a frustrating business. The GIEWS unit sounded the alarm over the recent locust emergency in October 2003. The conditions for locust resurgence were just right. We had seen enough spottings of young populations to expect a flare up, said GIEWS chief Henri Josserand. But it was not until July of the following year that any sizeable funding began to come in. By then it was hard to do anything, he added. Communities on the alert Technology has played a key role in the development of early warning systems for crops, diseases and climate. Satellite imagery proved crucial in helping FAO build up a realistic forecast for Zimbabwe s cereal production in 2004. But experts caution there can be no replacement for the finely honed senses of local communities, who are often the first to understand that all is not well. When farmers see no rain coming, and their seeds dry up, they know they don t need to be told, said Josserand. Local communities look at things like rainfall, the condition of the vegetation, the pattern of bird flights and wildlife. They have a very fine antenna for early warning. Some say too much emphasis is being spent on improving technology and there is concern that is not sufficiently used at local level. Lynn Brown of the World Food Programme would like to see palm-held computers used to monitor indicators on the ground. We are not getting the technology to the levels at which it can really be used, she said. Harnessing traditional knowledge is an important part of the information gathering process. As part of an effort to build up better national and community-level information systems, Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping Systems (FIVIMS) were launched, with FAO as the co-ordinating agency. The aim was to improve local data gathering and analysis and, just as important, make sure that the information was acted upon. Learning to look ahead Many ACP countries have their own early warning systems. But many others are still in the process of setting theirs up. An attempt to get a national level FIVIMS launched in Papua New Guinea foundered after 4 years of trying. And not all those systems re successful. Sustainability is a problem, conceded Maarten Immink, coordinator of FIVIMS. Some of them fail to take off or collapse once international support has ended. One country held up as a shining example is Tanzania, which uses a system based on log books kept by each village, to collect information on agricultural production. In Cape Verde, plans are in hand to bolster sub-national monitoring of food insecurity, so that a more localised picture can help highlight where problems are likely to occur. In Southern Africa, a region prone to droughts and floods, and, in the case of coastal and island countries, to tropical cyclones, considerable progress has been made in forecasting disasters and mitigating their effects. The Southern Africa Flood and Drought Information Network issues climate warnings to members of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and in South Africa, the University of KwaZulu-Natal is doing groundbreaking work to help predict floods using radar technology and computer-based mathematical techniques. Meanwhile, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has developed a model for use in flood forecasting in Mozambique. In francophone West Africa, the AGRHYMET Regional Centre collects, analyses and diffuses climatological, agrometeorological and hydrological information affecting its nine member states. It also helps countries upgrade their preparedness systems by conducting training courses in agrometeorology, hydrology, remote sensing techniques and geographical information systems. Under the World Meteorological Organization s Tropical Cyclone Programme (TCP), an initiative involving the Fiji Meteorological Service provides alerts on tropical cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons. But there are also a number of interesting schemes aimed at using forecasting to help small-scale farmers in a more local context. A project in Uganda is developing radio programmes in several African languages to provide producers with climate information relevant to local farming systems. Community-level forecasting Any effective early warning system must be supported by effective emergency response strategies. Mauritius, which has a long history of tropical cyclones, has been in the forefront of efforts to upgrade forecasting and preparedness. In the early days, warnings were given by police vehicles driving around with loudspeakers. These days, tropical cyclones are tracked by satellite and there are regular bulletins, issued by radio and TV, a strategy that has led to a dramatic fall in fatalities and damage to agriculture. In the Caribbean, which suffered devastating losses due to hurricanes in 2004, steps are under way to improve readiness for natural disasters. As part of the Digital Weather Radar Early Warning System project, digital Doppler weather radar stations are being installed in Barbados, Belize, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. These will be linked to five existing radar stations to provide radar images and data from throughout the Caribbean, to help reduce the vulnerability of the islands. Meanwhile, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) is compiling a catalogue of digital hasard maps that will enable farmers to assess flood risks, enabling them to make informed decisions on matters such as which crops to plant and where. Weather patterns can affect fish stocks, so developing forecasting systems is important for predicting catches. The Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem (BCLME) programme is helping African fishermen prepare for the significant impact on fish stocks caused by Benguela Niños, which causes floods along the coast of Angola and Namibia due to warm water from the tropical Atlantic Ocean.