Climatic Change

, Volume 153, Issue 1–2, pp 123–139 | Cite as

Recent intensification of the seasonal rainfall cycle in equatorial Africa revealed by farmer perceptions, satellite-based estimates, and ground-based station measurements

  • Jonathan SalernoEmail author
  • Jeremy E. Diem
  • Bronwen L. Konecky
  • Joel Hartter


Smallholder farmers and livestock keepers in sub-Saharan Africa are on the frontlines of climate variability and change. Yet, in many regions, a paucity of weather and climate data has prevented rigorous assessment of recent climate trends and their causes, thereby limiting the effectiveness of forecasts and other services for climate adaptation. In rainfed systems, farmer perceptions of changing rainfall and weather patterns are important precursors for annual cropping decisions. Here, we propose that combining such farmer perceptions of trends in seasonal rainfall with satellite-based rainfall estimates and climate station data can reduce uncertainties regarding regional climatic trends. In western Uganda, a rural and climatically complex transition zone between eastern and central equatorial Africa, data from 980 smallholder households suggest distinct changes in seasonal bimodal rainfall over recent decades, specifically wetter rainy seasons and drier dry seasons. Data from three satellite-based rainfall products beginning in 1983 largely corroborate respondent perceptions over the last 10–20 years, particularly in the southernmost sites near Queen Elizabeth National Park. In addition, combining all three information sources suggests an increasing trend in annual rainfall, most prominently in the north near Murchison Falls National Park over the past two decades; this runs counter to recent research asserting the presence of a drying trend in the region. Our study is unique in evaluating and cross-validating these multiple data sources to identify climatic change affecting people in a poorly understood region, while providing insights into regional-scale climate controls.



We are grateful to the survey respondents and the local officials who facilitated this research. Nick Dowhaniuk and Mike Palace provided much appreciated help with data processing. The paper benefitted greatly from the comments of three anonymous reviewers.

Funding information

Funding was provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation (CNH- 1114977) and National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration.

Supplementary material

10584_2019_2370_MOESM1_ESM.docx (184 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 184 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human Dimensions of Natural ResourcesColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeosciencesGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Earth and Planetary SciencesWashington University CampusSt. LouisUSA
  4. 4.Environmental Studies ProgramUniversity of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA

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