By Mary Mwendwa
After a day-long trek across the hot and dusty area, everybody gets a hot cup of tea.
"Today we want to eat early. Who is in charge of slaughtering the goat? Come over and do your work," says a dark, tall man with a sharp sword tied to his waist. He grabs a white and black headed goat and within a second, blood is seen oozing from its throat.
The goat is carefully skinned. The white, slippery intestines are carefully removed and placed on a wide tray.
"Now you will see how we predict drought and conflicts using animal intestines. At times we use cows but the most common one is goat intestines because we cook it more often than cow's meat," he says.
Modern meteorological practice is common all over the world, but not among the Borana community in Merti, Isiolo County.
"We do hear about the scientific weather forecast from media, but at times they are not very accurate, like last time they predicted El Nino but we didn't experience much rain. Now there is another alert again, we are yet to see rain. But here in the village we heavily rely on indigenous knowledge which is very close to the truth and people here believe in it," says elder Dabaso Halkano, from Gorbesa village.
Dabaso says a previous intestine prediction revealed no El Nino rains this year. "According to our wise men there will be rains in April 2015. That is what our people know now. Anything else from the meteorological departments does not make any sense to us."
Dabaso delicately displays the intestines on a plate. Black dotted marks surrounding white patches around the intestines are visible like a map. He touches them and says: "This shows that we will have drought. The black dots symbolise homesteads with pasture. Here they are few, meaning we will have a drought soonest." Dabaso also confirms the same technique is used to predict conflict.
According to Peter Ambenje, deputy director of Kenya meteorological services, although scientists appreciate traditional methods, modern weather prediction is not that simple.
The scientific process involves putting current observational climate/ weather data into mathematical models. The models are then run to give predictions. The kind of mathematical model used depends on the time scale of the prediction.
There are predirank ( + / - ) ctions in the short range (up to 24 hrs ahead), medium range (up to five days ahead) and the long range predictions (up to three months ahead). "The models adopted in many cases have to be tested to ensure that they replicate history fairly well. Historical data is key in the whole process," he says.
Ambeje adds that in the tropical regions, the long range forecasts (predictions) are based on statistical models that relate the climate variable, say rainfall, to certain predictors. This calls for systematic observations that ensure long series of scientific data of both the predictors (inputs) and the predicted variable.
He explains there are also models used for predicting climate change scenarios in the years to come.
Such models use the parameters that have been established to be influencing climate. Various scenarios of how the predictors are likely to be are used to make the projections. Many models are run and the model outputs compared to see those that are converging (giving almost similar results).
In another traditional scenario, Amina Kambicha from Merti narrates how women use ropes to predict drought and lost livestock in the community. She tosses a brown knotted rope and she says: "Whenever we lose livestock to cattle rustlers, we toss the rope in the hand and chant a prayer, when it falls pointing in a certain direction, it indicates the direction the stolen livestock has gone. It never goes wrong. We get accurate results."
Ambenje agrees indigenous knowledge is important in climate change matters. There is vast knowledge out there as to how the climate used to behave, he says. The changes that have taken place can also be well articulated. Adaptation strategies that used to be adopted in case of certain extreme climate events such as droughts and floods also exist.
This knowledge, if blended well with science, yields good results especially in climate change adaptation, he says. Indigenous knowledge among pastoralist communities where Dabaso and Amina come from has helped them predict impeding weather disasters.
The region continues to face harsh climatic changes which leave devastating effects. Dabaso says this kind of knowledge helps them to prepare and put in place adaptive measures.