Mitigating the Effects of Climate Change from the Ground Up

Paul Healy, the Senior Project Manager of the Drought and Flood Mitigation Service (DFMS), visited Uganda to showcase the applications of satellite data for modern farming and to learn about how local businesses currently use in-situ forecasting, modeling and early warning technologies.

Irregular weather patterns, such as the timing of the onset of the rainy season and the unreliability and intensity of precipitation, can increase the incidence of crop failure, soil erosion, and land degradation. For decades, the efforts focused on building water supplies and irrigation to boost crop yield. However, a new approach is now putting equal emphasis on creating early warning systems to optimize yield production.

This new approach is the Drought and Flood Mitigation Service (DFMS), a UK Space Agency-funded project that will improve the farming practices in the Karamoja region of Uganda. Set to launch in March 2019, the project is currently going through development, involving all actors of the agricultural food chain: from the Ugandan Ministry of Water and Environment to the local farming communities.

Healy visited the country to meet the end-users, local businesses and other stakeholders involved in the project to incorporate their feedback to the future development of the project. “The visit allowed us to learn how Ugandan businesses currently use in-situ forecasting, modelling and early warning technologies while listening to their concerns and finding space for their own growth in the face of this fast-changing technology,” he said.

Farmers from the Karamoja region of Uganda

Farmers currently receive weather forecast information via the radio and other traditional methods. However, the current weather unpredictability is posing a major challenge to farmers, who struggle to adapt to changing weather conditions. DFMS provides local predictions at parish level detail, delivering more specific and relevant data. Earth observation data, supplied by the Copernicus satellite fleet, will provide more reliable insights into the quality of soil moisture, land surface temperature and land cover.

Along with the higher resolution and reliable data from satellite images, streamflow data calibrated through a hydrological model, the DFMS will give farmers information on minute changes of river flows providing a sophisticated early warning system for drought and flood. These datasets will be cross-verified with a popular tool, used by such organisations as the World Food Programme, known as pictorial evaluation (PET for short), which will provide in-situ data on the state of crops and livestock. Together with real-time and historical meteorological data, they will form a robust model for the early warning platform.

“In the coming year the consortium will be carefully monitoring the impact of improved forecasting in live farms across the northern regions of Uganda, so business who want to apply the services nationally can be assured of the benefits of the platform,” added Healy.

Beyond agriculture

Uganda has high outputs of sugar and coffee, but locally some of the big market players include Ugandan national breweries and agro-consortiums (which represent small-holder farmers in cash crops and joint ventures in the country). DFMS has wide-ranging application in many business models besides agriculture.

“We have recently also explored the application of Earth Observation data for improved planning in a crisis, for planning urban settlements and where there might be synergies with existing early warning systems will be able to apply DFMS services internally,” said Healy.