A seasonal agricultural drought forecast system for food-insecure regions of East Africa

Hydrology and Earth System Sciences
By: , and 



 The increasing food and water demands of East Africa's growing population are stressing the region's inconsistent water resources and rain-fed agriculture. More accurate seasonal agricultural drought forecasts for this region can inform better water and agricultural management decisions, support optimal allocation of the region's water resources, and mitigate socio-economic losses incurred by droughts and floods. Here we describe the development and implementation of a seasonal agricultural drought forecast system for East Africa (EA) that provides decision support for the Famine Early Warning Systems Network's science team. We evaluate this forecast system for a region of equatorial EA (2° S to 8° N, and 36° to 46° E) for the March-April-May growing season. This domain encompasses one of the most food insecure, climatically variable and socio-economically vulnerable regions in EA, and potentially the world: this region has experienced famine as recently as 2011. 

To assess the agricultural outlook for the upcoming season our forecast system simulates soil moisture (SM) scenarios using the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) hydrologic model forced with climate scenarios for the upcoming season. First, to show that the VIC model is appropriate for this application we forced the model with high quality atmospheric observations and found that the resulting SM values were consistent with the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO's) Water Requirement Satisfaction Index (WRSI), an index used by FEWS NET to estimate crop yields. Next we tested our forecasting system with hindcast runs (1993–2012). We found that initializing SM forecasts with start-of-season (5 March) SM conditions resulted in useful SM forecast skill (> 0.5 correlation) at 1-month, and in some cases at 3 month lead times. Similarly, when the forecast was initialized with mid-season (i.e. 5 April) SM conditions the skill until the end-of-season improved. This shows that early-season rainfall is critical for end-of-season outcomes. Finally we show that, in terms of forecasting spatial patterns of SM anomalies, the skill of this agricultural drought forecast system is generally greater (> 0.8 correlation) during drought years. This means that this system might be particularity useful for identifying the events that present the greatest risk to the region.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title A seasonal agricultural drought forecast system for food-insecure regions of East Africa
Series title Hydrology and Earth System Sciences
DOI 10.5194/hessd-11-3049-2014
Volume 11
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher European Geosciences Union
Contributing office(s) Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center
Description 33 p.
First page 3049
Last page 3081
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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