Until the PC arrived at the station, all work was performed manually. Statistical information was laboriously plotted by graph, and information was sent to head office in Nairobi for input into the mainframe and analysis. Feedback from head-office could take up to three weeks to return to Machakos.
With the PC at hand, the meteorologists are able to provide information much more quickly – sometimes within minutes – to Mr Muthoka and other local farmers. None of Mr Muthoka’s immediate neighbours go to Katumani, but he tries to share his knowledge with them, in his capacity as leader of a local farmers’ group.
The Agro-Met at Katumani now has local rainfall data all the way back to 1950 stored on its PC. The station lacks an internet connection, so observation data is transmitted by email from the local cyber-café. The next stage in the Kenya Met Office’s decentralisation project would be to add a computer connection to Katumani
All over Kenya, the work of the Agro-Mets is assuming greater prominence at a time of prolonged drought. No water means “no green pasture, and humans and animals start fighting over the little available water and food”, explains Simon Gathara, senior meteorological officer at KMD. And in Kenya, the animals you are fighting for water are often elephants.
“We advise pastoralists to destock. Some Masai can have up to 2,000 cattle, Mr Gathara says. "We advise them to sell off most of their cattle and put their money in the bank. When the rains come again they can buy more cattle. They have no interest in keeping the money, as they measure their wealth by the number of cattle they have."
The KMD is an important cog in the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Its Nairobi headquarters houses a training institute which teaches post- graduate students from all over English-speaking Africa, and sometimes from Francophone countries too. Courses include the reception and interpretation of satellite data, which naturally are entirely computer-based. The computer lab is filled with reconditioned desktops from Computer Aid. And students are often given laptop refurbs to take back to their home countries.
The KMD is also ploughing its way through years of paper-based data – a team of data-inputters is working through the backlog on computers supplied by the UK Met Office and fulfilled by Computer Aid. ®
All pics © Glenn Edwards