Local Language Guide Tells Farmers Which Way the Wind Blows


When farmers in northern Burkina Faso speak about the direction of the wind, they refer to the direction it is blowing in. Burkina Faso’s meteorological agency, however, classifies wind by the direction it comes from. That means that when state forecasters warn of a strong west wind, farmers find an east wind comes gusting along, flattening their faith in forecasts.

A new guide aims to solve that problem — and help farmers build better resilience to climate change — by translating the French and English words commonly used in weather forecasts not just into northern Burkina Faso’s local languages, but also its culture.

The guide, for instance, translates the French and English word “eclipse” — the total or partial disappearance of the sun or moon — into the much more colorful term Burkinabe farmers would use for the phenomenon, said Malick Victor, a journalist from Chad who led development of the translation guide.

“If on local radio I want to announce an eclipse, I need to say that ‘Tomorrow, according to the meteorological forecast, the cat will catch the moon or the sun,’ ” Victor said. “Right now, the language used is so technical and not designed for the farmer. But if we give it to the farmer in a way they can understand, then they can use it.”

Victor’s guide is a dictionary of more than 500 French and English meteorological terms with equivalent translations in Moore, Fulfulde and Gulimancema, northern Burkina Faso’s three most-spoken languages. It was created as part of the British government-funded Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters program.

The three-year program aims to give some of the world’s most climate-vulnerable people, in countries from Burma to South Sudan, the tools they need to prepare for more extreme weather and fend off more frequent climate shocks without slipping into worsening poverty.

Victor started the guide in 2016 after noticing that efforts to get better seasonal forecasts to farmers through radio broadcasts weren’t working effectively, in large part because of translation issues. In Burkina Faso, for instance, farmers have little use for terms like winter and summer, instead dividing the year into periods of different rainfall and winds, such as the hot Saharan Harmattan wind season or the monsoon period.

Efforts to broadcast expected high temperatures also don’t make much sense for remote rural farmers without temperature gauges, Victor said.

“But if you can say whether it’s a day you can go outside with your animals or not, that can help,” he said.

Burkina Faso’s government, which has encouraged the project, has indicated it intends to reprint and widely distribute the new guide. It hopes to expand the translation effort to more of the country’s 60 languages.