Forecasting of agricultural drought

An exciting new development for TAMSAT is the capacity for forecast agricultural drought – defined as deficit in soil moisture that leads to plant water stress. These forecasts are undertaken using the TAMSAT-ALERT framework.

Despite its infancy, the demand for reliable forecasts of soil moisture is seeing TAMSAT-ALERT technology rapidly adopted by institutions across Africa. For example, TAMSAT-ALERT forecasts were piloted by Kenya’s National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) in Kitui county during the 2019 short rainy season. Based on TAMSAT-ALERT forecasts indicating a low probability of drought, Kitui moved from the ‘Alert’ phase of food security into the ‘Normal’ phase, allowing limited resources to be diverted from short-term drought preparedness activities to long-term resilience building investments. The success of the pilot saw TAMSAT-ALERT forecasts rolled-out to  additional vulnerable counties in early 2020 with further plans to expand TAMSAT-ALERT forecasting in progress.  First time in Africa plus changes in alert levels.  Financial savings.  Divert resources for investment into future.  More resilient for next drought.  Feed families.  At shorter timeframes, TAMSAT-ALERT provided live planting date decision-support to the One Acre Fund (OAF) in early 2020. Advisories were shared with agricultural extension workers in Uganda, Kenya and Zambia via SMS, representing over 10,000 farmers. In Kenya, identification of an early planting window enabled farmers to benefit from an unusually long growing season. Under future plans, TAMSAT-ALERT planting date advisories will benefit over a million of OAF’s farmers.

TAMSAT-ALERT seasonal forecasts have also informed World Food Programme (WFP) bulletins in Zambia4. The suitability of TAMSAT-ALERT based climate services are currently being explored with the Nigerian and Ghanaian NHMS, and the Red Cross are currently fine-tuning triggers based on TAMSAT-ALERT forecasts for use in Early Action Protocols in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mozambique and Namibia. Many applications of TAMSAT-ALERT will be piloted throughout 2020 and operationalised thereafter.