A radio in front of a group of men gathered under a tree in a rural village in Niger.
Radio is an affordable communication tool to access climate information in rural Niger (Photo: Mika Issa/NORCAP)

Rain gauges and radios - why climate information is crucial for communities in Niger

Mikaïla Issa|Published 16. Dec 2021
Climate change causes an increasing number of exceptional dry periods, heat waves or sudden, heavy rainfalls in many regions in Niger. Thus, farmers and smallholders depend on weather forecasts to be able to adapt and save their yields. The Niger national meteorological department (Niger MET) runs programmes to improve climate communication in rural areas – with the support of NORCAP.

7 AM in Raba'a, a village in the Maradi region, located over 700 kilometres from Niger's capital, Niamey.  The breeze is chilly and heavily dusted, gusting across the courtyard. As the sky lightens up, the sunrays through the tiny attic covered with millet straws at the entrance to the house. Habiba Ibrahim, head veiled, dressed in a "boubou" woven in bright Sahelian blue and red, is preparing for her day. An illiterate 30-year-old mother of three, this young woman juggles being a housewife and a farmer to take care of her family in an environment of extreme drought.

"I grow millet to make a living, even though the land here is not very productive due to the lack of rainfall and fertiliser," she explains, holding a calabash in her hands while sorting millet to cook her daily lunch.

"The agro-pastoral deficit of the 2021 season is marked by low yields in three out of the four communes that we evaluated in November. Gazaoua is the only commune that was an exception compared to 2020, with an average score for food production and biomass," explains the Head of the mission and Niger-MET-engineer, Nazirou Toune.

Despite a typical start to the rainfall this year, the agricultural season didn't meet expected results as the rain stopped too early in September. Climate variability and change continue to expose the most vulnerable populations of Niger to extreme volatility in their livelihoods.

"I usually receive weather updates through the radio, and the forecasters also keep us informed in our local language by WhatsApp. With the climate information, I was able to improve my yields, as it helped me to better plan my seeding and harvesting activities," says Habiba.

Man in face mask talking to three women in rural Niger, sitting in front of a fence made of straws.
NORCAP expert Mikaïl Issa (far left), talking to Habiba Ibrahim and her neighbours in Raba'a village in Niger. (Photo: Mikaïl Issa/NORCAP)


Timely information saves crops

In a changing climate context that is particularly alarming in Niger, access to agro-climatic information is key to strengthening the resilience of the most vulnerable communities.

"When it rains, people seek to find out the amount of rain recorded in their village the following day so that they know when to plant. Climate information has become a vital need because of climate change. Communities use it widely,” says Lawali Maroussa, Mayor of the commune of Dogo.

The climate information provided by the Niger MET, aims to enable farmers to adjust their production methods to weather conditions, including weeding, the application of fertilisers and pesticides to mitigate the spread of pests.

Although the rain stopped earlier than usual in September, something unexpected occurred: "One day, we received a weather forecast predicting a very high rainfall. We immediately alerted the farmers, urging them to shelter their groundnut and cowpea harvests left in the fields," recalls Abdourahamane Abdou Ado, Chief of the Agricultural District of Dogo.

This came just in time. Heavy rains poured down on the land shortly after. "If I had not been informed in due time, I would have lost my entire harvest of the year," says Abdou, who is also a groundnut producer.

Woman in rural village in Niger checking a rain gauge set up in a field.
Rabi Alassane, Niger's first female rain gauge observer, explaining the benefits of her work. (Photo: Mikaïl Issa/NORCAP)


First female rain gauge observer

As the rainy season approaches in Niger, agro-pastoral producers are constantly on the lookout for daily information on the rainfall situation in their areas.

According to Habiba Ibrahim, women use climate services more than men. They would even send their kids to look for the results of weather forecasts, such as heavy rainstorms and high winds, to take preventive measures.

"I'm pushing to involve more women in the process for effective dissemination of the climate information," says Habiba.

And she is not the only one. In Dan Fountoua village in Dogo, Zinder region, some 900 kilometres from Niamey, a woman is advocating for a gender-balanced approach in the appointment of rainfall observers.

"The work of a rain gauge observer appeals to me so much that even the villagers acknowledge my commitment by calling me “Miss Meteo”. More women are needed as climate experts," says Rabi Alassane, the first female rain gauge observer in the Dan Fountoua village.

"From the moment the rainfall is recorded, I immediately inform the village. Afterwards, I call the agricultural technical service to communicate the result," explains Rabi with enthusiasm.

Since its establishment in the village, people have considered the rain gauge a lifesaver.

Rabi testifies: "If a woman has cowpeas or millet that she wants to pound and learns it will rain, she rushes to do it the day before. Likewise, if she has some perishable goods, she will do everything to shelter them from the rain."

Active women groups and farmers' organisations are key players in strengthening climate-gender awareness. Moreover, if they are trained, women rainfall observers can help involve other women in using and spreading climate information more widely.

Climate information increases resilience

Community radios play a significant role in raising climate awareness among the population and broadcasting weather forecasts in local languages.

"We tune in to the radio every day to listen to the weather forecast. This is useful information as it helps us to prepare in advance for fieldwork," says Saouara Issia, a farmer in Gazaoua.

"We need to support more community radios to ensure that they can continue to disseminate climate information for the benefit of rural populations," Lawali Maroussa advocates.

The seasonal forecast is vital to ensure proper planning of the farming season. The Niger MET conducted an annual capacity-building program to empower rain gauge observers, regional technical services, and city mayors to improve their understanding of the various agro-meteorological information and facilitate effective decision-making.

"It is crucial to use mixed climate communication tools tailored to local user needs and realities to maximise the outreach and impact of climate services. This will ultimately sustain the nexus of climate information and decision-making," says Mikaïla Issa, NORCAP Climate Communication expert.

The current agro-climatic context in Niger demands new resilient practices to cope with climate change and variability, which causes planting delays, long and frequent droughts, floods, and extreme temperatures.

"Farmers who can use climate services are increasingly becoming more resilient in the face of climate change. The challenge is to raise public awareness and ensure that what we disseminate is well known and applied," says Niger MET engineer, Nazirou Toune.