Newsletter editorial – seven months into FOCUS-Africa…

Newsroom

Roberta Boscolo, WMO

It is with great excitement that I introduce this first issue of the Newsletter of FOCUS-Africa. By launching its implementation phase on 1st September 2020, FOCUS-Africa is now seven months old however, as you will find out in this newsletter, it has already made some important steps forward, despite the current health crisis. In these initial months, the project workplan designed for a COVID-free world, had to be adjusted to take the current limitations in travelling and gathering into consideration. Hence, both the kick-off meeting and the first stakeholder workshop were held in virtual mode.

To mark the beginning of FOCUS-Africa implementation, the project consortium held a kick-off meeting on the 16-17 September 2020. The meeting featured the EC project officer, Anna-Natasa Asik, the two coordinators of the H2020 sister projects: CONFER and DOWN2EARTH amongst others. This event was the first occasion to gather the whole consortium and, despite being virtual, it foreshowed set a good start for the project.

Executing the project workplan as designed in our proposal meant that we had to hold our first stakeholder workshop in virtual mode in December 2020. The first two sessions facilitated the interaction of the teams involved in the climate services case studies. A combination of virtual breakout rooms were organised for the small groups to discuss and present their action plans and the challenges especially due to COVID-19. The first workshop was also the opportunity to introduce the Responsible Research and Innovation approach to the consortium partners and to initiate the discussion on how to involve all actors in a multidisciplinary approach to the innovations and at the same time to address key issues like: gender equality, open access, science education etc…

The third virtual session of the first stakeholder workshop was open to all the stakeholders of the case study on food security in South Africa. We invited South African representatives of farmers associations, academia, climate services providers and financial lenders to share their perspectives on climate services needs for decision-making. Despite the limitation of the virtual environment, the workshop was rich in content, discussions, interactions and ideas for meaningful stakeholders’ engagement. The next workshop will also be virtual in September 2021, focusing on the three case studies in Tanzania: food security, energy and infrastructure.

FOCUS-Africa counts on receiving guidance and advisories from a group of world leading experts that are members of our Advisory Board. The Board held their first meeting in November 2020 with the FOCUS-Africa Executive Team and are now familiar with the project objectives and workplan. Representing African institutions and international programmes like: FAO, Global Water Partnership, C3S, WCRP, GFCS etc., the Advisory Board members have already helped the project to connect with additional potential users of the climate services as well as shared useful information from past and ongoing initiatives in the region. The next Advisory Board meeting will be held in July 2021.

The fruitful collaboration with the H2020 sister projects, CONFER and DOWN2EARTH, took several forms in these initial months of implementation. In addition to serving as members of the distinct project’s Advisory Boards, the coordinators meet monthly to identify and implement synergies and common activities. Notably, an EGU session on climate services for sustainable development was jointly organized in April 2021 and a webinar series will be launched in May 2021 co-organized with IGAD Climate Prediction and Application Centre. Stay tuned for the first webinar on “Demystifying Seasonal Climate Forecast”.

Clearly, FOCUS-Africa and the H2020 sister projects will make progress by prioritising lessons learned and recommendations from past and ongoing projects. In particular, I would like to express my appreciation to South-South-North for the many useful knowledge-sharing discussions on the legacy of the WISER programme and for inviting the projects to attend the “Lessons and Recommendations for Weather and Climate Information Services for the WISER programme” held in April 2021. Collaboration with South-South-North will continue further to support the projects with co-production and stakeholder engagement. Similar collaborations and knowledge transfer events are planned with WMO-led projects “Adaptation Programme in Africa (GFCS APA)” and “Intra-ACP Climate Services and Related Application (ClimSA)”.

To celebrate “Earth Day” this year, FOCUS-Africa launched its own campaign on social media with the hashtag #FOCUSAfricaEarthDay. Our aim was to share information on the projects and raise awareness on the climate knowledge gap in the African Continent. While the use of climate information is growing rapidly worldwide, most of the countries in Africa still lack the infrastructural, technical, human and institutional capacities to provide high quality climate services. Several videos and infographics were produced and shared on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook during the week 19-23 April 2021. On Twitter we had almost 11k views on our tweets, 100 visitors on LinkedIn and a total of 300 visits on the website. The videos cumulated 200 views.

Needless to say, that the current limitation in meeting the stakeholders in person and reaching the final users in the participating countries is preventing the project from making its expected progress. While I am counting on the continuing motivation of the work packages and case studies teams to advance the workplan in the virtual space, I hope for a speedy global vaccination rollout through the COVAX scheme and the opportunity to meet the African and European colleagues in 2022.