Weather and climate information provided by national meteorological services
across East Africa can at times be technical and difficult for non-experts to
understand. A working partnership across the region has come up with an
ingenious solution: Climate Cafés.
In the Greater Horn of Africa, unpredictable climate can have a devastating effect on
people’s livelihoods. A delay to the rainy season can lead to crops withering in the
ground, leaving farmers with no way to make a living. For fishermen dependent on
Lake Victoria, a sudden storm can upturn boats and threaten lives as well as
Across the region, farmers and fishermen need timely information to make informed
decisions about their businesses. Yet the answer isn’t simply to make weather
forecasts more easily available. Journalists must have the skills needed to
understand and interpret the forecast information so they can present it to fishermen
and others in a way that is both accurate and instantly understandable. To do this
they need to know the right questions to ask the meteorologists in interviews. Not
only that, the meteorologists need to have a clear idea of the information that is
required and communicate it to the media without jargon.
To bridge the gap between journalists, meteorologists and people on the ground
across East Africa, the Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa (WISER)
programme has been working with the Network for Climate Journalists in the Greater
Horn of Africa (NECJOGHA) to set up and run an innovative series of workgroups
known as Climate Cafés.
“The cafés bring together several people from different walks of life,” explains Patrick
Luganda, Executive Director of NECJOGHA. “They then have the chance to discuss
recent forecasts and draw on their experiences, so it gives some useful feedback to
The cafés are normally introduced by a representative from the national
meteorological service. Presentations vary each time, but to take a recent example at
a Climate Café in Mbarara, Uganda, scientists used the forum to highlight the
weather products that were available, including daily forecasts, ten-day forecasts,
known as dekadals, and seasonal forecasts.
Following the initial presentations, the cafés are then opened out to the floor for
discussion. By coming along to the cafés, journalists can gain a deeper
understanding of what people want from forecasts. “It’s not just the technical
information, but the interpretation of what that means and making it relevant to
different sectors,” explains Patrick. The cafés help to demystify meteorological
terminology for journalists and people on the ground, while also giving scientists the
chance to see how the media works and what journalists are looking for from them.
Sharing best practice
The Climate Cafés started in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania in 2016. Following the
successful pilot phase, the aim is for the cafés to become regular across the eleven
countries of the Greater Horn of Africa. “The Climate Cafes are about knowledge
transfer, education, breaking down the science into simpler terminology. If we can
spread the cafés out then local governments could pick them up and use them,” says
Whenever a national meteorological service releases a seasonal forecast,
NECJOGHA aims to call a Climate Café in the capital city of the country concerned.
Another key aim is to take the cafes out into local regions, so they reach rural
communities and end-users such as farmers and fishermen. There are logistical
challenges, but the cafés are already reaching villagers and people living in more
Cafés can also include updates on innovative solutions to the challenges posed by
the harsh climate of the Greater Horn of Africa, including, for example, climate
resilient farming techniques. For instance, during a café held at Mukono in Uganda in
October 2018, participants were taken on a field visit around the Mukono Zonal
Agricultural and Development Institute (MUZARDI). They were introduced to efficient
ways of growing vegetables, such as food sacks and vegetable towers – ideal for
urban areas where space is at a premium – as well as recent innovations in rearing
cattle and aquaculture.
Making a difference
The cafés are making a tangible and lasting difference for people who are reliant on
the land for their livelihoods. Farmers are making better informed decisions about the
crops they are planting, for example. “If they need to plant maize or beans then they
have to have rain early,” explains Patrick. They can also decide on the varieties that
are planted, switching to faster growing varieties if the rains are predicted to be late.
At the Climate Café in Mukono, Dr Beatrice Akello, the Director of MUZARDI, cited
the recent rise in maize production, which was due to farmers receiving timely advice
on the right seed to plant, along with accurate forecasting.
“With the right information, farmers can also stagger their planting,” adds Patrick.
“For example, by planning their timeframes, they can ensure that certain crops that
need a lot of moisture are planted first.”
Following the cafés, more and more journalists are reporting on the seasonal
forecasts, in language that non-experts can understand, and focusing on the issues
that farmers, fishermen and pastoralists need to know about.
It’s an exciting change for Patrick and his team. “The more that the media attends,
the more relevant their reports are. The other thing is, that people are demanding
climate information more or less daily, which is something we have never had
before.” There have also been requests for product and sector specific Climate
Cafés, such as one focused on growing coffee.
“This is a game changer,” says Patrick. “People didn’t relate economy directly to the
climate and know how the two were linked, but they understand it now.”