Sunday, December 27, 2009

"Why Kenya's farmers can now predict the rains"

With an easy smile he admits that the plastic box on his desk has transformed his work from drudgery into a proper career. The "weatherman", as his village likes to call him, describes how his day used to be spent. He would take readings on air and soil temperatures, solar radiation, wind, rain and evaporation, then glance at the colonial-era barometer and write his report. This would be sent by post to headquarters in Nairobi, arriving about a week later. They would analyse his findings according to their weather models and a forecast would be posted back to him.

"By the time I got it was useless," he says with a shrug. "We weren't able to assess daily or seasonal forecasts – we would just do manual data entry." The largely pointless work would then be painstakingly filed, he adds, pointing to a cupboard covering the entire office wall.

Two years ago all of that changed when Computer Aid – one of the three charities for which The Independent is raising funds in this year's Christmas Appeal – equipped Jackson's meteorological station with refurbished PCs and gave him and his colleagues the training to use them.

Now the morning's readings are fed straight into a live system and then modelled into a forecast which is available instantly on the internet. "That means we can forecast the start of the rains, their seasonal length, the length of the dry spells. All at the touch of a button," he beams. "It's much more interesting and I feel more motivated to work."
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