A time to sow and a time to reap
With ideal conditions for growing crops such as wheat, rice and barley, agriculture plays a key role in Kazakhstan’s economy. For the sector to thrive, close attention needs to be paid to the challenges posed by the growing threat of climate change.
Kazakhstan is particularly vulnerable to changing climatic conditions. According to Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Energy, the country faces temperature rates rising twice as high as the rest of the world due to its arid conditions and landlocked status.
This has made keeping ahead of the challenges of climate change and predicting the weather accurately more important than ever in Kazakhstan, but until recently, weather forecasters in Kazakhstan relied on the vagaries of an age-old manual system consisting of worn-out maps and indecipherable, hand-written data. The experts found themselves repeatedly at a loss as to how to predict the weather accurately.
Gulmira Akisheva, head of the Meteorology Department at Kazhydromet, Kazakhstan’s National Hydrometeorological Agency, recalls having to go through 2,500 map pages from its 70-year archive.
"Even the most experienced forecaster can easily make mistakes using the paper-based method," says Gulmira. "Inconsistent and inaccurate weather forecasts impede the farmers' ability to harvest. People’s trust in our organisation was very low.”
UNDP joined up with USAID to develop specialised software to help Kazakhstan’s experts sift through mounds of climatic information and stay ahead of the changes. This software selects and presents the required map 20 times faster than the most agile person, helping to significantly reduce the workload of staff and deliver more timely weather forecasts to farmers.
In a follow-up project USAID and UNDP are helping Kazhydromet access technical expertise from international partners to bring its working methods into the 21st century.
"The new system will allow us to compare incoming data with that of any previous years, making the information we pass on to the farmers much more reliable," says Gulmira.
Using the new software, meteorologists can issue climate forecasts for the whole season in a few seconds enabling farmers to better plan and optimise their harvest. Kazhydromet works with 600 farmers to provide up-to-date predictions. Participating farmers have reported a 20 per cent higher yield on average.
The success of this project has an impact on the whole region. Wheat is the number one source of protein in the human diet, and it is a vital staple in Central Asia. Kazakhstan, as the world’s ninth largest wheat producer and the seventh largest exporter, is key to maintaining adequate supplies in the region.
"Sixty per cent of Central Asian countries' diets are based on wheat, so the wheat yield alone can directly affect food security and stability of our region. Delivering an accurate climate forecast could play an essential role in fighting hunger,” says UNDP Project Manager Yerlan Zhumabayev.
“As UNDP, we stand ready to continue supporting the Government in its work to strengthen such an important sector of the economy as agriculture. We believe that sustainable farming practices that are being made available with innovations like this digital map will not only provide greater food security, but also help us all make necessary adjustments to climate change and remain resilient in the face of such a risk,” says UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Kazakhstan Munkhtuya Altangerel.