How the web can bring abundance to Africa

Computers and broadband have enabled Zambian weather forecasting to transform farmers’ prospects

Basildon Peta
The Independent [UK]
8 January 2010

On a continent plagued by droughts and floods, an unremarked revolution is under way in the arid Southern Province of Zambia where 58-year-old Munalula Mate has harnessed the internet to help forecast and prevent natural disasters. Once the bread-basket province of the nation, the region around the city of Livingstone has in recent years experienced a slump in its agricultural fortunes because of the floods and droughts that ravage the area at regular intervals. But thanks to Mr Mate’s work, that trend is being swiftly reversed.

Mr Mate is a weather forecaster with a classical training from the UK’s Met Office. For years he has compiled short- and long-term forecasts in the Livingstone area. But their usefulness has been constrained by two factors. First, the local data he has been able to gather has been severely limited. Second, even when he compiled the best predictions he could, they were out of date by the time they could be effectively distributed throughout the remote rural province.

But those obstacles were all put behind him once he had landed his first computer and internet connection. Disasters are now being avoided and farming output has risen in his area by an average of 10 per cent every year for the past five years.

Now Computer Aid International – one of the three charities for which Independent readers are donating money in this year’s Christmas Appeal, which closes tomorrow – is working on expanding his pioneering work across the nine provinces of Zambia.

The scale of the change he has prompted is dramatic, says Ron Miyanda, of Zambia’s Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit. “His work has become central to our planning and it helps us put the requisite contingency measures in place.”

During the major floods which hit the area last year, Mr Miyanda’s department was able to evacuate villagers and their livestock from lowlands before the heavy deluge. Flooding was severe, and many lives were saved thanks to the forecasts that Mr Mate was able to provide.

The article continues at The Independent.

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