Women tribal farmers are helming many community managed automatic weather stations at various agro-ecological zones here that could be game changers for the region in providing timely and accurate forecasts and ensuring food and nutrition security.

Of the seven automatic weather stations in the hill ranges here, four are run by women and three by men with all of them being tribals and farmers.The AWS provide meteorologic information with a local focus to support agriculture.

"We at the automatic weather stations collect data on temperature, rainfall, relative humidity, wind velocity, wind direction and radiation," Vijayalakshmi Pradeep, a 23-year-old tribal woman and a small farm holder managing the weather station at Thuvarapallam said.

The primary purpose of AWS is to support farming and related activities, the source of livelihood for people here who are predominantly "Malayali" tribes.

Malayali is the name of the tribe, meaning dwellers of hills and weather stations, and are run with the community participation.

The weather stations were set up by M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) with the support of Bioversity International and The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a UN agency.

Vijayalakshmi moved to Thuvarapallam in Namakkal District following her marriage and studied upto 12th standard.

"I was trained on fundamentals related to weather conditions, to handle the computer, and in managing the information system," she said, adding, the data gets fed automatically into the system.

The first AWS was set up at Moolakadai in Kolli hills last year. This year, six other such stations were established in Navakadu, Thuvarapallam, Aripalapatti, Keeraikadu, Vendalappadi and Puliampatti. These places fall under different agro-ecological zones and are dominated by tribal communities.

The 24-year-old Parameswari, who manages the Keeraikadu AWS says young tribal men and women like her who run the weather stations do it voluntarily, adding, they are given an incentive of Rs.1,500 per month by MSSRF.

A farmer, she went to school up to eight standard, and now is "happy to be part of an initiative which will help our farming besides the community.

Sridevi (25), helming the Navakadu AWS , said "It is exciting to do this. The weather station apparatus is light, easy to assemble and set up."

Hema running the Aripalapatti AWS, Madeshwaran of Puliampatti, Annadurai of Moolakadai and Selvaraj of Vendalappadi narrated the difficulties the tribal communities in hilly terrains experienced during the previous three years of inadequate rainfall.

Asked how the weather stations work, Principal Scientist, MSSRF, ED Israel Oliver King said: "It is based on GPRS cloud server technology, and with data collected from sensors, the automatic weather stations update information every 10 minutes, passing it on to a server."

The weather stations are located in premises like "Village Knowledge Centres" run by MSSRF.

"This data is then disseminated to the local community through various means such as announcements (through loud speakers in villages), mobile messaging, voice messages and through the village knowledge centres," the scientist said.

On cost, he said it was approximately Rs.1,75,000 for setting up one weather staion.

On weather forecasts, he said, "We will be able to provide full-fledged local weather forecasts after we compile data for three years." 

As of now, they have begun work to undertake seasonal weather assessments to help farmers, he added.