At the Southern Africa Ministerial Meeting on Integrated Early Warning and Early Action System Initiative held recently in Maputo, Mozambique, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) called on governments in southern Africa to support and invest in scaling up early warning systems and anticipatory approaches for resilient agrifood systems.
“Agriculture is among the most exposed sectors to these extreme weather hazards. Studies have shown that using an early warning anticipatory approach is more cost-effective than reactive approaches. FAO is committed to supporting Southern Africa Member States’ efforts to scale up actions in early warning and anticipatory action,” Patrice Talla, subregional coordinator for Southern Africa, told the conference.
The meeting aimed to strengthen disaster preparedness and expand early warning systems in the countries through an anticipatory approach to protect lives and livelihoods.
According to a FAO statement at the meeting: “When I received the SMS alert in the last week of April indicating that there was going to be heavy rain in the following three days, I was able to speed up the harvesting of sorghum crop before it got moisture damaged,” Thulani Maposa said during a review of the Early Warning Messaging Activity in her area. She is from Fumukwe (Ward 17) in Zimbabwe.
Maposa’s story is one of the several that depict the importance of early warning and anticipatory actions among farming communities.
The scale and complexities of these extreme hazard events, and the wide-ranging impact they have on countries, require moving from responding to preventing the impact on crops and livelihoods.
The 2021/2022 rainfall season saw six cyclonic systems bring devastating torrential rainfall that brought colossal damage to the region within a period of six weeks, including Mozambique and Madagascar. In April 2022, South Africa suffered severe flooding and landslides affecting cropland and livestock.
In Southern Africa, FAO is supporting member states in developing early warning systems. Through funding from German Federal Foreign Office in Zimbabwe, the European Union funding, and USAID funding in Tanzania, FAO has worked with government and other partners to set up contextualized early warning and short-range forecasting information systems for farming communities in the targeted group.
The farming communities receive early warning and advisories in their preferred languages, enabling them to understand better the conditions being described and make informed decisions.
Additionally, FAO is supporting member states in monitoring and containment of outbreaks of transboundary crop pests and animal diseases.
Working with NASA Harvest and the University of Maryland, FAO is spearheading the using earth observation tools to improve crop monitoring capabilities and to produce advanced yield forecasts in Malawi and Namibia.
In collaboration with Penn State University, FAO developed and rolled out the eLocust3m app locust early warning system in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The system enables early detection of locust outbreaks.
These tools allow countries to better predict potential supply shortfalls and take well-informed decisions to support anticipatory action to protect lives and livelihoods from increasingly extreme weather and climate change impacts.
“The eLocust3m app is an innovative tool that has helped to strengthen data collection and reporting more accurately on locust infestation. Farmers and extensionists in Karas Region use the app in pest control, reporting and early warning,” said Fabian Booys, an agronomist technician for the Ministry of Agriculture, Namibia.
Utilizing all opportunities in early warning systems will help to forecast the likely impact, and assist relevant institutions and people at risk. There is significant potential for indigenous knowledge systems especially of farmers in the rural communities who face weather hazards and risks each day of their lives.
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The Southern Africa Ministerial meeting commited to support and take an active role to ensure all citizens, in particular the most vulnerable communities in southern Africa are covered by effective Early Warning and Early Action System initiatives.