Our “sister project”: DOWN2EARTH

CONFER has two “sister projects”: DOWN2EARTH and FOCUS-Africa. All three are funded under the same sub-topic of the Horizon 2020 programme, and we want to explore our sister projects a bit further. First up is DOWN2EARTH, led by Dr Michael Singer at the University of Cardiff. We have asked him for some insight into what the project does, its connection to CONFER, and how the two projects work together.

About DOWN2EARTH

DOWN2EARTH was developed with the goal of making sure that information about climate gets to where it is needed in a form that is useful to those who need it, mainly focusing on the drylands of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. The project is led by Dr Michael Singer at the University of Cardiff.

– We recognised a concern that the rural communities in the region seemed to be disconnected from the conversation about climate change, even though they are the ones most affected by it. Our goal is to bridge that gap and take into consideration the needs and capacities of these communities to make their own decisions with regards to climate based on appropriate climate information. We also discovered that the conversion of information from atmospheric variables, like rainfall, temperature etc., to something more applicable to for example farmers and ground workers, was a bit lacking.  

The project can be considered two-sided. First, you have the community side, which focuses on connecting with rural communities in the area and learning from them. The DOWN2EARTH team learns about decision-making processes, how people engage with new information online, availability and socio-political and cultural phenomena in the region. By interacting with the local communities, they learn about what challenges and informational needs people in the region have. The project also works on higher levels, with national and subnational ministries, to understand how decisions are made.

– We want to know how historical climate policies might be useful, and maybe how they can be improved to reflect future climate change. A lot of work is therefore done to learn about the policy environment in the area and on the community-based side of things in general.

Second, there is the climate side of the project. DOWN2EARTH focuses on drylands. The scientists work with forecasts, using the forecasting information and future climate change predictions to drive novel hydrological models that are focused on dryland environments. A lot of the hydrological models do not work in drylands because they are designed for human environments, and processes such as how rainfall is converted into groundwater are completely different in drylands. Therefore, DOWN2EARTH is working on a dryland-specific modelling framework to roll out on a regional level, which can be used as a basis to provide impact-based forecasts relevant to water needs and to look at different scenarios of future climate change.

– The bigger goal is to provide new climate services. We want to make the impact based forecast available through a desktop version for governmental workers, as well as a mobile version for farmers and ground workers. Furthermore, we hope to provide some output that explains what information one might expect from a seasonal forecast for example and to have some input into policies that would support better climate adaptation in a future that looks more challenging for a lot of the rural communities we focus on.

Where is DOWN2EARTH in the process now?

– Considering the limitations due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are in a good state. Thankfully, we already started some of the work with the relevant stakeholders. Of course, the pandemic makes it hard to get a good overview of what everyone in the project is doing at all times, but we have momentum now, which is good. We are currently trying to map the needs of stakeholders in the region to be able to provide them with the best possible climate services. We are not doing a lot of forecasting yet, but we are working on model development, understanding how climate services in the region work today and how we might be able to improve them. This might be an area where we can work together with CONFER as well.  

Partners in Africa

DOWN2EARTH’s partners include the University of Addis Abeba and the University of Nairobi. Also, they collaborate with climate services organisations like ICPAC and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), as well as the international charity Action Aid.

– Working with these organisations is very useful for us because they can help us conduct focus group interviews etc., which is invaluable during Covid. We are also working with a company called Transparency Solutions, which helps us connect with high-level policymakers and facilitate things on the ground in a challenging environment.

How are DOWN2EARTH and CONFER connected?

CONFER (Erik Kolstad) and FOCUS-Africa (Roberta Boscolo) are both on the advisory board of DOWN2EARTH, along with several others. The purpose of the advisory board is for “outsiders” to get updates on the project and be able to comment. This way, you get a fresh perspective from a mix of different people.

– At the advisory board meetings, we typically give updates on our accomplishments, where we are at, potential problems etc., and then give people time to discuss. The advisory board can give advice, or they might know someone else who can help with a specific issue.

The three sister projects will also have a joint final conference at the end of the project where they present their findings.

– We want to arrange some more joint events throughout the project and are currently working on a webinar, which will take place in August/September. The plan is to create a series of webinars, hopefully with a podcast to go with it, and each webinar will cover a different topic.

The first webinar will discuss seasonal forecasting, aiming to demystify forecasting. People have to understand how they can use the forecasts for them to be useful. There is no point in working to create as accurate forecasts as possible if people are not going to use them. The webinars will be co-organised by the three projects, and the project leaders will nominate people to be on the panel to discuss forecasting. The audience also includes stakeholders from both South and East Africa.

CONFER and DOWN2EARTH are working with some of the same partners, like ICPAC and BBC Media Action, and they are working on a couple of activities together.

– We are creating a MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) for journalists, which is available in English, Swahili and soon Somali as well. We are budgeting for the mentoring of local radio stations to help them develop programs on climate change adaptation. Also, we are participating at the GHACOF, and last time we hosted one of the side events, which we are planning to do again. This is a great way for us to build our stakeholder database and get an idea of how people make decisions and use the information our project is providing.

Recently, the two projects had a paper published together. This kind of collaboration is something both CONFER and DOWN2EARTH would like to see more of as the two projects progress.

– If it turns out that we have something to say at the end of the project as well, we will probably want to write a synthesis paper on what we learned along the way. We also see the potential for future collaboration on improving forecasting in the region, but as of now, our projects differ in scale in that area. Nevertheless, there is an added value to working together so we avoid doing “double-up” activities. Through our collective efforts, we can get more out of all of this.

Finally, how would you sum up the joint goals of DOWN2EARTH and CONFER?

– They are complementary in the sense that CONFER is focused more regionally across all the ICPAC countries, whereas if we zoom in on the drylands within the same region and say “these are particularly challenging places to understand climate impact, and challenging environments for people to live and survive in”, that would be where DOWN2EARTH is focused and the level we are trying to drill down to. It is a matter of differences in scale perhaps. CONFER is tailoring their products to the needs of larger organisations with specific needs, whereas DOWN2EARTH is more focused on downstream users. Both projects are working with seasonal forecast to understand what the potential impact of a season will be on for example groundwater storage or other variables.