Nigeria: Why Farmers Need Rainfall Prediction Now More Than Ever

opinion

As a farmer, choosing that most honourable profession over a decade ago, in Nigeria as we all know, it means all kinds of difficulties. But I'm not writing about problems today. Instead, I would like to take a look at something which many Nigerians actually benefit from without quite knowing: Weather prediction. Like I said when I began, I went into farming some years ago, and over that time, I've recorded many ups and downs, and mostly downs. However, the ups make up the most recent records, and I can chalk it all up to the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet).

As you can imagine, weather is extremely important to the production of crops and the workload of the farmer. He has to know if and when he can do certain work in the fields or harvest his crop. Livestock producers have to know if there's rain in the forecast. Should I try to get a wetter field planted and do a poorer job, or wait for good weather? Weather forecast definitely helps farmers on many fronts, such as helping them make informed decisions to get the best from their investments and hard work. Even losses in the production of crops can be reduced by adopting proper crop management practices with the help of timely and accurate weather forecasts.

I first stumbled on rainfall prediction (yes, I'm that much of a 'Johnny-just-come') on the pages of newspapers, Daily Trust to be precise. It was like a blind man becoming able to see. The information, provided by NiMet, proved to be an invaluable addition to my processes, which I had built up over the years and had had the assumption was a watertight system.

So I went a-Googling! And I found out that part of the agency's statutory responsibility, is the mandate to train and undertake research in the fields of tropical meteorology, agricultural, hydro, aeronautical and marine meteorology. It also became clear that NiMet, formerly the Nigerian Department of Meteorological Services, dated back to the 1950s when the National Meteorological Training School, Oshodi had been training Job-Entry Meteorological Technicians. Then subsequently, in pursuance of the World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) plan for the development of meteorological training in Africa, a Regional Meteorological Training Centre was established in Ikeja, Lagos in 1964, to train medium-level meteorological technicians and senior meteorological technicians. In 1975, the Regional Meteorological Training Centre and the Meteorological Training School were merged to form the present Regional Training Centre (RTC).

Impressed as I was with all this new info I was gleaning, it also became clear to me that training of MDAs personnel by the NiMet's RTC on the impact of weather and climate-related challenges, especially in the face of climate change and its resulting extreme events, would support human resources development to produce the needed specialized manpower to drive the application of meteorology to socio-economic development, for the wellbeing of Nigerians in particular, and Africa in general. As a farmer, that makes me feel very positive about my future!

Now, some time has passed and I've been enjoying the prediction data which NiMet offers me, and everyone else. Here are some specific ways: Crop growth, or crop yield, requires appropriate amounts of moisture, light, and temperature. Having access to this data can guide farmers in making significant and potentially costly decisions, such as whether, when and how much to irrigate.

Also, one of the many decisions that I have had to make is determining the proper time to apply fertilizer, as well as the application rate. A misapplied application caused by weather can wipe away the entire field's profits. Weather forecasts can be used to ensure that fertilizer is applied in the right conditions-when it's dry enough so that it doesn't wash away (which would create a waste of resources and money) but moist enough so that it gets worked into the soil.

Then certain weather conditions encourage the development and growth of pests and diseases, which can destroy crops. Forecast guidance incorporated into pest and disease modeling can help determine whether-and when-it's appropriate to apply pest or disease controls.

The cost/benefit equation for having access to reliable weather forecast information is not always easy to quantify, but it's a decision that's easy for most large growers and producers to make. Throughout many months, farmers make small but frequent decisions about their crops, and the cumulative effect of the financial implications of those decisions can be significant.

In the final analysis - at least my final analysis - if a farmer relies on a forecast for precipitation that turns out to be accurate, he or she saves the cost of unnecessary irrigation. And by having a good idea of the expected amount of rain over a period and irrigating just enough to allow crops to thrive, he will maximize yield. So, how on earth would rainfall prediction not be a valuable tool for farmers? That's why, now more than ever, farmers need rainfall prediction. And while it is their job to that, I would still like to use this opportunity to thank the NiMet for providing such a valuable resource.

Usman is a Zaria-based schoolteacher and farmer.

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