Japheth Olukune Akhati and his neighbours are busy tilling their land in preparation for planting. It hasn’t rained for a few months in their village of Essong’olo, about 30 kilometres from Kisumu. But thanks to traditional knowledge, the farmers know it might rain in a few weeks, and they want to be ready.
Mr. Akhati grows maize and other crops on a little more than a hectare. He says, “From last week, the wind has been blowing from west to east, and that is a real sign it is going to rain in the next three or four weeks.”
Kenyan farmers have relied on traditional weather forecasting for generations. Some fear these methods will be discarded as climate change brings more extreme and unpredictable weather. Others say that indigenous knowledge and methods remain valuable – especially when used together with modern science.
The Kenya Meteorological Department thinks that traditional practices have something to offer. The Department now blends these forecasts with science-based predictions. The result is more accurate – and better-received – local weather forecasts in western Kenya.
The Department uses satellite technology and other modern methods to produce forecasts. Rainmakers from Emuhaya County’s Nganyi family provide predictions based on indigenous knowledge.
The results are combined and analyzed, then translated into the local language and broadcast on a local radio station. Social gatherings, word of mouth and chief’s meetings spread the forecasts further.
Farmers say the combined forecasts, added to their own observations, give them added confidence about what to do in the face of the changing climate.
As the rain approaches, local farmers become very precise with their predictions − down to a matter of hours. They say the colour of the clouds tells them if rainfall will be accompanied by hailstones.
Mr. Akhati adds: “When we wake up in the morning and find no dew on the grass, then it is an indication it will rain on that very day. It is also important to note that, on the night before a rainy day, the temperatures usually rise beyond normal.” Other natural indicators include the call of the laughing dove bird, the behaviour of ants, the croaking of frogs and toads, and bee migration.
The Nganyi family are highly respected by local people for the power of their predictions. The family has shrines that contain large, rare indigenous trees that are regarded as sacred. These small patches of forested land attract reptiles, birds and insects whose behaviour is monitored to predict upcoming weather.
Josephat Atieli is a small-scale farmer from Mumhoba village in Emuhaya. She explains, “We respect their word. When they predict something, it usually comes to pass. We actually depend on their word, especially at the beginning of the planting season.”
In return, the villagers provide the Nganyi family with produce from their farms.
Gilbert Ouma heads the Kenya Meteorological Department’s project to integrate traditional knowledge with scientific forecasts. He says, “We have been able to study these shrines, and we can authoritatively say that they provide realistic information that can assist in predicting weather conditions in the local environment.”
In return for the rainmaking clan’s participation in the project, Nganyi women and youth receive training and micro-credit opportunities, aimed at conserving indigenous trees and diversifying livelihoods.
Perhaps mindful of the power of their knowledge, the Nganyi family is not keen to disclose all their techniques. They prefer that some things remain a mystery to the men with the machines.