From: Nick Kennedy, SciDevNet, More from this Affiliate
Published February 10, 2014 09:06 AM

African Monsoon Project to Benefit Crops and Healthcare

Researchers unraveling the complexities of the West African monsoon say they are set to bring major agricultural and health benefits to people in the region — despite setbacks caused by terrorist threats and wars in the Sahel region.

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The African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis (AMMA) programme, a consortium of over 400 researchers from 30 countries that was started 14 years ago, has gathered a wealth of new data about the West African monsoon from across the Sahel, and is now inspiring similar projects elsewhere in Africa.

The new dataset is enabling the researchers to improve climate prediction models for West Africa, which in turn will help to forecast farming success and disease outbreaks in the region. They are now extending the project to coastal areas of West Africa.

Crop forecasts will be produced by the AGRHYMET (Agrometeorology, Hydrology and Meteorology) center in Niger. The forecasts could allow the millions of people who depend on the monsoon for subsistence agriculture to make better-informed decisions.

For example, if farmers can be certain that the next season will be a drought, then they know it is not worth buying expensive fertilizer and seeds, says Richard Washington, a climate scientist at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom.

The scientists hope that AMMA will also help forecast health risks throughout West Africa because diseases such as meningitis and malaria are influenced by the monsoon, says Doug Parker, meteorology professor at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom, and a UK coordinator for AMMA.

These forecasts are now being prepared in Burkina Faso and Senegal.

Parker says that the dust that arrives in West Africa during the dry season triggers meningitis outbreaks. The threat of meningitis subsides with the onset of the rainy season — when malaria outbreaks rise.

Gathering the data

The initial AMMA data collection project focused on the wet region of the Sahel. A separate programme called Fennec built on AMMA to collect data for the first time from the drier region of the central Sahara that plays a key role in influencing the West African monsoon.

Central Sahara was an "enormous blank on our climatic map of the continent", says Parker.

"We got an excellent dataset from a place [central Sahara] where there was almost nothing before, which will be part of the process of getting the [climate] models to work better over the region," says Washington, who led Fennec.

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, SciDev.Net.

Africa map image via Shutterstock.

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