Automated weather stations in Africa: fighting the effects of climate change

Image: A TAHMO weather station being installed on a rural African farm (courtesy Dutch Water Sector)

Agriculture dominates Kenya’s economy as its largest gross domestic product. A huge population of the country, estimated at 75%, relies on subsistence farming to earn their living and meet their family’s dietary needs. As a result of global climate change and disrupted weather patterns, many of these farmers lose their crop either pre or post-harvest due to the lack of awareness and preparation on their farms. This is not a unique case to Kenya, many sub-Saharan countries are facing this challenge.

The Kenyan Government, in an effort to find a lasting solution allowed the Kenyan Meteorological Service (KMS) to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the TU Delft/Oregon State University project title Trans-African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory (TAHMO) to develop a solid network of automatic weather stations (AWS) in Kenya. The project intends to create a technological solution through a cost effective network of hydro-meteorological measuring stations that will map and predict water and weather in the region.

The MoU allows the TAHMO project, backed by the KMS, to continue since they can set up and operate these weather stations in the country. The next step is to develop and implement a sub-Saharan wide weather sensing network. This project, if successful, will leap towards ensuring food security across the continent and the entire world. 
It is estimated that the global food production will need to increase by 40% by 2050 to meet demands of a rapidly growing global population. Africa certainly has significant capacity to produce the additional food needed if the erratic weather patterns can be predicted. This knowledge will allow African farmers to prepare adequately and ensure production continues without disruption.

TAHMO’s ambitious plan is to set up a dense network of hydro-meteorological monitoring stations all over sub-Saharan Africa, at least one AWS every 30km. To cover the desired range, they will need to build 20,000 AWS stations.  Infusing innovative sensors and ICT solutions in the project will lower initial capital and maintenance costs. The data collected will be combined with models and satellite observations to get complete insight of the water distribution and energy stocks and flow.