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September 08, 2011

Solar-powered weather stations alert Kenyan farmers to drought

In Kenya, solar energy is being tapped as an affordable and green power source for devices that capture valuable weather and climate data in rural locations.

Kilimo Salama (safe farming) is a crop insurance scheme that uses a remote solar-powered weather station to determine compensation to signed up farmers for losses from failed or too much rain.

Data gathered by local automatic weather stations powered by solar energy makes it possible to gauge the extent of erratic weather, and fix a corresponding payout in the form of seeds to farmers who have experienced crop failure, Centre for Training and Integrated Research in Arid and Semi Arid Lands Development (CETRAD) officials say.

Each automatic weather station is fitted with a General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) device which enables it to record data on farms within a 20 km radius every 15 minutes.

The Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD), meanwhile, is hopeful that solar technology could be the next frontier in weather forecasting through powering remote early warning systems.

Trials of an early warning system installed at the Dertu Millennium Village project in the northeastern district of Garissa have shown that the technology is useful to pastoralist communities, preparing them against looming drought.

With a storage capacity of 12 volts, the solar-powered unit collects data on humidity, solar radiation and winds, according to Samuel Mbalu, database manager at the U.N.-backed Millennium Village.

Pastoralist Mohamed Abdi Adow heaps praise on the system, explaining that information from the station enabled him to sell most of his livestock before the current drought peaked.

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