Introduction

Communicating drought information to remote rural populations is a major challenge for drought monitoring and prediction in Africa. Seasonal rainfall forecasts, precipitation and stream flow monitoring products, key environmental information, and even life-saving early warnings are commonly trapped in the information bottle-neck of Africa's capital cities. Without access to reliable communication networks, the majority of Africa's farmers and herders are cut off from the scientific and technological advances that support agricultural decision-making in other parts of the world.

Inspired by the potential that drought monitoring and prediction technologies hold for improving the quality of life in rural Africa, the African Centre of Meteorological Applications for Development (ACMAD) worked with herders and farmers to design the RANET system. RANET is an information and communications support network based on the needs of remote communities and the realities of rural

*A resume of M.S. Boulabya, M.S. Cerda, M. Pratt, K. Sponberg, 'Harnessing Radio and Internet Systems to Monitor and Mitigate Agricultural Drought in Rural African Communities", Boken, V.K., Cracknell, A.P., andHeathcote, R.L., eds., in Agricultural Drought: Global Monitoring and Prediction, Oxford University Press, New York (forthcoming).

living in Africa. The RANET system, named for its innovative linkage of radio and Internet, brings new communications and information technologies together with the oral traditions of Africa to deliver scientific drought information over a distributed network owned and managed by local communities.

RANET combines data from global climate data banks in the U.S., seasonal rainfall predictions from the international scientific community, data and forecasts generated in Africa, along with food security and agricultural information, to disseminate a comprehensive information package via a network of digital satellite, receiving stations, computers, radio, and oral intermediaries. Prior to RANET, this information was rarely available outside of capital cities, and much of it never traveled far beyond the research centers where it originated.

RANET was met with enthusiasm when it was initiated in Niger in 2000 and in Uganda in 2001. Hailed as a technology that has finally caught up with the needs of rural populations, RANET is already demonstrating positive impacts on agricultural production and vulnerability reduction. RANET, however, has come to be more than a drought monitoring and early warning system. Involvement of rural populations in local RANET implementation has motivated community members to become part of the communication system, unleashing their creativity and capacity to address a variety of local needs. Early indications show that the program's positive effects on sectors such as rural health and civil society have caught the attention of the international development community.

As the RANET system is replicated in other African countries and as potential expansion to Asia and the Pacific is considered, it is important to explore the advantages and limitations of RANET as a technology and as a communications framework. Experiences with RANET in Niger and Uganda reveal the system's successes and challenges in two very different African contexts, highlighting key issues for communicating drought monitoring and prediction information within the RANET context and beyond.

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