Climate Change Threatens Kenya's Rainmakers


Image: DFID via flickr

We hear a lot about the impact of climate change on agriculture, especially smallholder farmers, but there's a group of people who advise those farmers who are also affected: rainmakers.

This may sound like a joke to people who have constant access to advanced technology (and, for example, can consume their news online), but in regions where farmers depend on their crops for survival, timing of the harvest is everything. And where meteorology-based weather reports are hard to come by, farmers have to get climate information where they can. In western Kenya, that source has been rainmakers, who have a history of surprisingly accuracy, even according to some modern meteorologists.But rainmakers are now finding their skills are waning as weather conditions are altered with climate change, threatening their own livelihoods as well as the farmers who depend on them.

Rainmakers have been called upon for generations to predict the onset of rain so that farmers can plan their planting season properly, according to a recent AlertNet story.

Reading Nature's Signs
The Nganyi people of western Kenya are skilled at observing subtle changes in nature—such as when trees shed their leaves, the behavior of ants and bees, and even when antelopes mate—that go unnoticed by most people, and using those observations to interpret and predict weather patterns.

Rainmakers also depend on particular plant species that are disappearing due to changing conditions.

AlertNet explains more about the profession:

Rainmakers make their predictions to farmers in special ceremonies, sometimes relying on aches in their bodies to foretell the coming of rain, or interpreting signs in the natural world.

The best rainmakers can sometimes predict the onset of rain with astonishing accuracy. But they lack other occupational skills, and the majority do not know how to read and write, making it difficult for them to find other work.

The story quotes rainmaker Peter Muhatia: "I used to make a reasonable amount of profit advising farmers, but now I am thinking of switching to another career which may bring better opportunities, such as brick making."

So rainmakers' services are in decline, causing them to suffer financially, but farmers also have few alternatives for guidance when it comes to farming each season.

Finding Ways Forward
Some rainmakers have been broadening their services and giving advice to farmers on what crops are better suited for drought conditions. But farmers still want and need information about the coming seasons.

Rainmakers want to provide that information but no longer have the means to get it; meteorologists, with access to advanced technology and scientific research, are able to make better predictions (although that group has also had more difficulty as the effects of climate change worsen). What meteorologists don't have is a way to distribute that information to the rural farmers who need it.

To solve that gap between supply and demand, a partnership has actually been established between rainmakers and meteorologists. The two groups meet each season and produce a forecast that the rainmakers can then disseminate to rural communities.

IPS reports one woman who sells fruits in western Kenya said about the collaboration: "The forecast helps us know what to expect on the market in the near future. This is extremely important because some fruits and vegetables need adequate preparations in terms of storage."

More on Africa and climate change:
Population Growth, Climate Change Degrade African Soil, Threaten Millions With Starvation: Worldwatch
The New Scramble for Africa Threatens Water Resources
Himalayas, Africa Facing Climate Change-Induced Water Shortages - Yemen's Already Rioting
Heat, Drought, Famine All Part Of Coming 'Exponential' Increase Of Climate-Related Disasters

Tags: Africa | Agriculture | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Effects | Kenya