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East African Scientists Turn to Traditional Knowledge for Weather Predictions

As changes in weather continue to ravage farms and take a toll on food production across East Africa, scientists and meteorologists are turning to traditional rainmakers and weather forecasters to bolster the accuracy of weather predictions.

The rainmakers have perfected the art of interpreting plant responses and animal behaviors to predict the weather. They observe when plant leaves curl, for example, or when flowers bloom. And they watch everything from the movements of certain birds, to bee migrations, to mating patterns of animals like antelopes, to the croaking of frogs, to predict the timing and intensity of rains and drought with high precision.

In Western Kenya, considered one of the country's breadbaskets, conventional forecasting using modern equipment has traditionally been frowned upon as too scholarly. Thousands of smallholder farmers have for years relied on the rainmakers from the Nganyi community, which is well-known for weather interpretation using Indigenous knowledge, to advise them about when and what to plant based on weather patterns. The weather predictions can be for a day, week, or even a month. In return for insight on the weather, farmers repay the rainmakers with the proceeds from their farms.

Traditionally, the rainmakers’ work has always been confined to the community level, receiving little or no recognition from scientists or the government. Rainmakers have at times even been ostracized as sorcerers.


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