Our “sister project”: FOCUS-Africa

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. Today we introduce our sister project FOCUS-Africa, led by Roberta Boscolo at WMO. We have asked her for some insight into what the project does, its connection to CONFER, and how the two projects work together.

About FOCUS-Africa 

FOCUS-Africa is a project led by WMO addressing the full value chain of creating climate services – from data to research and climate science to final use of the services, including assessment of the socio-economic benefits. FOCUS-Africa looks at all the steps to build climate services and tries to figure out how researchers, service providers and users will interact in co-development and co-production.

– Looking at the full value chain, the service supply is more advanced in some regions of the world, and FOCUS-Africa tries to overcome the obstacles preventing the full value chain from being implemented in the Southern African region through knowledge transfer.

FOCUS-Africa will try to identify the barriers in climate service delivery through eight different case studies in five different countries, covering four sectors: agriculture and food security, infrastructure, water management and energy management. 

– The case studies are designed to help identify the current barriers for service delivery and to develop service prototypes that reach the end-users and generate measurable socio-economic benefits. Lessons learned and successful methodologies will be used for capacity development in Africa, especially for the service providers like the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs). We want to see what works and what does not work, building on previous projects in the region as well as our own case studies.

The FOCUS-Africa project started at the same time as CONFER and DOWN2EARTH, 1 September 2020, but the pandemic has made the fieldwork difficult.

– We are struggling to engage with users for assessing the climate change impacts and their requirements for managing the climate risks. We have our partners in Africa that help us connect with the users, but we haven’t really been able to do our fieldwork. The engagement so far has been done with video conferences, where we gather research partners, service provider partners and user partners, but it is very difficult to build mutual understanding and trust through the digital world, especially in this part of the world. Normally, we would have visited the users in their location and conducted in-person interviews. 

Despite the difficulty caused by the pandemic, FOCUS-Africa is taking forward the work planned in the eight case studies in the region. One example is in South Africa, where they are targeting local farmer’s communities in the northern part of the country. The main user is Land Bank, which is a South African development finance institution that supports local farmers with micro-investments. 

– We are collecting requirements from Land Bank on how to better support the creation of innovative credits to farmers that consider the future impacts of climate change. These climate services will also support new insurance schemes to reduce climate vulnerability and build resilience among the smallholder farmers.

In another case study, FOCUS-Africa is working together with Electricité De France (EDF), looking at future water availability for building hydropower in Lake Malawi. This case study works closely with another case study in Malawi, addressing food security. Such synergy ensures an integrated approach to the water-energy-food nexus in the country. Another example of the case studies that FOCUS-Africa is working on is a project in Mauritius, supporting water management and security on the island. The island is very small and current climate models do not resolve the different physical characteristics of the area. The team working on this case study will develop new products for seasonal forecasts with high resolution to forecast precipitation in the different zoning of the island and help the Water Resource Unit to better manage water reservoirs.

FOCUS-Africa is developing different climate services depending on the requirements of the identified users. For some case studies, we are looking at seasonal forecasting or projections in a well-defined area, for example, while for others we are focusing on the future variability and trend of different variables like temperature, precipitation, humidity etc. 

– This is where we might differ a bit from CONFER. We are trying to get to a specific user and develop prototypes of climate services, which we hope will be uptaken by the NMHSs for providing the climate services in an operational way. We are working in the research and innovation part, but closely with the NMHSs in order to develop the operational mode well. 

Partners in Africa 

FOCUS-Africa has several partners in Africa, including the University of Cape Town and the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. They also work with NMHSs in Malawi, Tanzania, and Mauritius. Furthermore, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, an applied research institute in South Africa, is also part of the consortium. Other African partners are the Institution for Agriculture Studies and Research in Mozambique and ACMAD, the WMO regional climate centre in Africa.

How are FOCUS-Africa and CONFER Connected? 

Although the geographical area of FOCUS-Africa is mainly Southern Africa, some of the countries overlap with the East African region in which CONFER works, like Tanzania and Malawi. DOWN2EARTH and CONFER work more in the same geographical area, but the objectives and actions of the three projects are quite similar. 

– We have regular meetings, and we started to lay foundations in specific areas of collaboration, particularly in capacity development, communications and dissemination, as well as stakeholder engagement. 

Despite the different geographical areas, co-production is an important common topic in which all three projects will invest effort. Another common topic that FOCUS-Africa will put a lot of emphasis on is capacity development. ACMAD is in charge of developing climate services curricula that will be integrated with those developed in CONFER and DOWN2EARTH.

– Although our action is demonstrating the full value chain of specific climate services, the long-term goal is to contribute to enhancing the capacity of African institutions to support climate adaptation and mitigation policies.

Towards the end of the project, they will create policy briefs with recommendations for policymakers in the region based on lessons learned from the project. This is another arena in which FOCUS-Africa, DOWN2EARTH and CONFER might work together so that instead of making three separate policy briefs, they might combine them into one joint policy brief. 

Tell me more about how you work with CONFER on communication and dissemination 

– We have planned a series of webinars to be rolled out starting from September 2021. Also, we are discussing a series of joint workshops for stakeholder engagement, together with SouthSouthNorth (SSN), an NGO based in South Africa. We also want to host a continent-wide conference on climate risk in Africa, which will be very broad, but basically supported by the three projects. 

The first climate risk conference was held in 2019 in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and was a multi-agency collaboration with WMO being one of the big promoters. The three sister projects are planning to host the second edition of this conference towards the end of the projects. 

Finally, how would you sum up the joint goals of FOCUS-Africa and CONFER? 

– I am really impressed by the degree of collaboration that the three projects have established since the beginning of the implementation. Certainly, I can say that for FOCUS-Africa, such collaboration is extremely beneficial in terms of support with stakeholder engagement in order to overcome the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The joint efforts in the above-mentioned areas increase the chances of measurable impacts in the Eastern and Sothern region of Africa, and potentially in the whole continent. This is a synergy that could potentially lead to greater outcomes. Both projects aim at increasing the capacity of African institutions to support climate adaptation in their countries and develop climate-resilient economies and socio-economic wellness. This is a goal we share with CONFER and DOWN2EARTH, and we hope to achieve it by enhancing research and innovation. In the climate services domain. I was not expecting such great cooperation among the “sister projects”, but I am grateful that this happened and honoured to be part of the team.