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Watching the weather

In September 2007, catastrophic floods in Benin destroyed 50 villages and ruined crops; farmers had no access to weather reports and so were unable to prepare themselves for the deluge. But two years on the outlook is more promising, reports SciDev.com, thanks to a new project focused on strengthening capacity in rural Benin to adapt to climate change, known as PARBCC.

Weather patterns across the West African country have become increasingly hard to predict as a result of climate change. In some areas, the rainy and dry seasons are no longer clearly separated, making it hard for farmers to know when to plant their crops.

Benin’s economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, so the project’s aim is to strengthen rural people’s ability to adapt to changing weather patterns, thus reducing food insecurity and poverty.

Meteorologists, farmers and the Government are collaborating to give agricultural workers the knowledge they need to cope with droughts and tropical storms and to mobilize against other climate change-related hazards. Some 300 farmers have enrolled in ‘field schools’, where farming strategies are being researched, tested and implemented. Local conditions are taken into account, and techniques such as managing soil fertility, harvesting rainwater and using organic fertilizers are being developed.

‘We thought that climate change was caused by the wrath of our gods,’ explains farmer Glégnon Codjo, who is taking part in the scheme. ‘So we made sacrifices to ask for their mercy in order for rain to fall. When the project started, we had village meetings, where we identified options for adapting to climate change. Based on our discussions, we decided to grow maize and mucuna as well as soybeans and peanuts in strips. These are new practices for us.’

The results from the field schools are used to inform farming policy at a national level, and subsequent official recommendations are included in a bimonthly newsletter and multilingual radio broadcasts, which together reach two million farmers. The bulletins include weather forecasts and details of the previous two months’ weather patterns.

Results so far are promising. Another farmer, Tinari Kouagou, enthuses: ‘We have done some very good experiments and we had very good crops, despite the unpredictable rainfall. We are all sincerely happy about that.’

New Internationalist issue 428 magazine cover This article is from the December 2009 issue of New Internationalist.
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