Flowering sugarcane in the distance ready for harvest. (Photo: UNDP/ Andrea Waqa-Montu)


132 years - observing the weather in sweet Rarawai

Tucked in a section of the small but industrious town of Ba, is Rarawai and at 9 a.m. every day, you will find Amit Raj Singh, recording weather readings from one of Fiji’s oldest and longest climate station located at the Rarawai Sugar Cane Research Centre. Singh is the Scientific Officer for the Sugar Research Institute of Fiji based in Ba.

Since its establishment in 1887, observers like Singh have taken monthly recordings of temperature and rainfall without fail. From 1905 till today, readings have changed to a daily basis.

Originally from Lautoka, the 36-year-old has carried out observations and recordings every day for the past 10 years. If he is not able to take the readings, he needs to ensure someone else does, in his place.

The meteorology station is 6 kilometers from Singh’s residence, the Ba river is situated 400 meters to the west and 700 meters south, the sea is just over 6 kilometers to the north. The site has a history of flood inundation. During heavy rainfall events, it is a challenge for observers like Singh to reach the site to take observations for the day.

“On weekdays, I wake up at 5.30 a.m. to be at work by 7 a.m., I organize work for the day and do other administration work till 8 - 8.30 a.m.  Based on my workload, I will either delegate to another observer or I will go out and take the reading at 9 a.m. During the weekends, I leave home around 8.30 a.m. to be at the meteorology station by 9 a.m.,” said Mr. Singh.

 "During one of the floods experienced in Ba, I waded through knee-deep water to take the readings. Other times I had to take diversions, short cuts to reach the station,” he added. It can be quite challenging for observers, 365 days in a year regardless of distance from home, health, weather forecast, family commitments, observations

Amit Raj Singh measuring rainfall during his 9am monitoring and recording at Rarawai Climate station, in from of a “Stevenson screen”. (Photo: Muni Deo)

are recorded. These observations in the sugar industry have gone back as early as the 1800s.

"More than a century without missing any record is a great achievement and is remarkable. Through the sugar industry, we have meteorological observations in Fiji which are very good when measured in terms of consistency. Through the days of the Colonial Sugar Refinery and now to the Sugar Research Institute of Fiji (SRIF), observers have continued to keep up with e-weather readings and as such, we have got a long uninterrupted historical climate record for certain part of Fiji,” said Senior Scientific Officer in the Climate Division of the Fiji Meteorological Services (FMS), Mr. Bipendra Prakash.

Handwritten daily recordings of climate Data in Rarawai Mill began in 1905. Before 1905 meteorological data were recorded monthly. (Photo: UNDP/ Andrea Waqa-Montu)

This attitude is manifested in Amit Raj Singh’s approach to weather observations and he knows the importance of keeping to his 9 a.m. schedule. On a daily basis, he collects and transcribes multiple weather parameters such as

  1. Cloud cover
  2. Wind direction
  3. Wind speed
  4. Rainfall
  5. Temperature via a dry bulb thermometer
  6. Temperature via a wet-bulb thermometer
  7. Maximum temperature
  8. Minimum temperature
  9. Evaporation

The data is submitted to FMS during a routine phone call every morning and recorded in what is called a “Met 303 book”, final checks are carried out to ensure all the

instruments are returned to its right place and the Stevenson screen is closed.

The Stevenson screen contains two mercury thermometers that display the hottest temperature of the previous 24 hours and a second thermometer records the lowest temperature. It is standard worldwide for all Stevenson screens to be painted white to ensure much of the sun's heat is reflected and also features louvers that allow for ventilation.

Highlights and Analysis


Rainfall


From the data supplied to the FMS, requests can be made by any stakeholders on rainfall data for the area going as far back as 1887. One can go on further as to request when did the heaviest rainfall take place in one day or in what year was the highest rainfall ever recorded.

Heaviest rainfall in one day:  30 January 1956 - 379.0 millimeters.

The highest annual rainfall recorded:  In 1956 - 3614.7 millimeters. 

The lowest annual rainfall was recorded:  In 1987 - 910.9 millimeters.

Rarawai Station is one of the 20 climate stations managed and operated by volunteer groups around Fiji. Rarawai is managed by the Sugar Research Institute of Fiji (SRIF), which  has climate stations in all operating sugar mills in Fiji. SRIF staff are volunteer observers who record and provide climate and weather data to FMS.

The Ministry of Agriculture, the Water Authority of Fiji (WAF), Airports Fiji Limited (AFL) and the Catholic Church in Fiji are a few long-standing partners of FMS who also provide manual observations.

Climate stations can be manned by volunteer organisations that provide daily observations to FMS. (Photo: FMS)


Fiji has 30 Automated Weather Stations (AWS in pink), 32 Rainfall Stations (yellow), 8 Tipping Bucket Automated Rainfall Stations (TB3 RAIN in orange) and 33 Climate Stations.

AWS’s has similar reporting elements as a climate station. It provides real-time reporting of weather elements in 10-minute intervals covering rainfall, wind speed and direction and temperature. Rainfall Stations are manual and can only report on rainfall on daily basis. TB3 RAIN Stations provide real time reporting for only rainfall at 5 - 10mins intervals.

Use of Climate Data

Weather and Climate data is used by various stakeholders to make well-informed decisions on future projects based on meteorological patterns and trends detected for a certain area.

Meteorologists rely on access to quality meteorological historical recordings to carry out climate analysis. The work Singh and other similar observers around the world undertake, is pivotal to understanding future changes, providing quality data for policy makers to address and respond to global issues such as climate change.

“When having a long enough record, we can see trends for temperature and rainfall and whether it is increasing or decreasing over the years, we have a good data set to predict what may happen, in the next 50 years,” said Mr. Prakash.

Fiji's climate stripe 1901-2018

Fiji’s climate stripe and warming trend is captured visually here for the period 1901–2018. The deep blue line represents cold temperatures, pink to deep red illustrates Fiji’s warm and hottest temperatures. Over the years Fiji has become warmer and moving into the red stripes indicating warmer temperatures. (Source: Berkley Earth)


Town planners rely on easy to understand climate data analysis to assist them to address energy and infrastructure needs, water management, increase resilience for extreme weather events and budgeting purposes.

Climate data can also be used by the Ministry of Health and Medical Services to investigate the correlation between increased flooding and waterborne disease outbreaks including malaria and dengue. Fiji’s tourism industry is also heavily dependent on Fiji’s climate to ensure tourists enjoy, Fiji’s sun, sea and sky and thus short and long term and seasonal forecasts will be useful for the Industry.

Fiji’s Agriculture and Aviation Industry are extremely sensitive to changes in weather and the impacts of Climate Change. Any changes would potentially alter Fiji’s economic projections. In the vicinity of the Rarawai mill, a total of 3,700 farmers are dependent on climate and meteorological data to determine the best times for planting, harvesting and deciding on suitable sugarcane varieties for different soil types.


Climate variability has a major impact not only on the sugar industry, mono-crop in nature but also on the national economy of Fiji. It is essential to understand the impact of major changes in climate patterns that affect the soil moisture on which the sugar industry relies on.

“We have done climate change projections for Fiji with the assistance of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) in Australia, that show a very high confidence that air temperature and sea surface temperature will continue to rise in this century and will increase between 2 - 4 °C by the end of the century,” said Mr. Prakash.

The SRIF partners with the FMS to repackage climate and meteorological data into information that is easy to understand, relevant and credible; allowing farmers and sugarcane stakeholders in Rarawai to prepare and plan for planting and harvesting of sugarcane. One product SRIF contributes to is the Sugar Outlook, “Fiji Sugar Cane Rainfall, Outlook from August 2019, Harvesting and crushing Season” produced by FMS.

“We must partner with appropriate people, who can make sense of the information which we provide, SRIF helps us to unpack the meteorological information for decision making and planning in the industry. So, for example, if it is raining a lot at a certain time of the year, it can be good for the sugarcane crops, but at a certain time of the year, the crops don't need rain. They need dry conditions for sugar accumulation, SRIF can inform and warn farmers,” said Mr. Prakash.

Mr Singh showcasing sugar cane varieties that are tested at SRIF. Based on data provided by FMS, SRIF provides advisories to farmers on harvesting & planting times. The advisory to sugarcane stakeholders on suitable cane for farmers is determined by soil, air temperature and rainfall in the area. (Photo: UNDP/ Andrea Waqa-Montu)


"SRIF has a farmer advisory component to its functions and the weather component helps us provide the best advice to the Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC), farmers as well and other stakeholders on the good time for planting, cultivation, harvesting of cane, this is based on the data analysis we receive from FMS,” said Mr. Singh. 

Mr. Singh also said consistent interaction with FMS, also furnishes SRIF with imminent climatic conditions like drought or rain conditions. The Fiji Cane Industry relies heavily on rainfall. The entire cane belt is rainfed with little provisions of irrigation facilities, therefore, rainfall is an important component to any advisory.

According to the FMS, stakeholders are increasingly realizing the importance of climate change projections and meteorological observations. In 2010, FMS received 200 - 300 data requests, current times this has increased five-fold to 1,000 requests in a year.

Mr. Prakash said developed countries utilize the climatic and meteorological observations available to them whereas in developing countries, are slowly acknowledging the importance of quality meteorological data for planning and decision making.

“Construction companies contracted to complete work during a set time frame, often access historical data to provide evidence that delays in construction was due to heavy rainfall events. In addition, if construction is to take place, they are also able to find rainfall trends for the specific area and work around those times,” said Mr. Prakash.

The Chairman of the Macroeconomic Committee and the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji, Ariff Ali’s statement in the Reserve Bank Quarterly Review June 2019 stated "the favorable performance of the agriculture sector and the envisioned increase in sugar manufacturing is attributed to the absence of any major natural disaster, contributing positively to domestic economic growth for 2019.”

Meet Nand Kishore

Master Kishore looks out to his recently harvested sugarcane field in Paipai. (Photo: UNDP/ Andrea Waqa-Montu)

 

The 69-year-old retired school teacher Master Kishore, as he is fondly known is no stranger to the local media. 

On many occasions, he has highlighted the plight of sugarcane farmers in Lautoka in his capacity as President for the Lautoka District Cane Farmers Association. One hundred farmers in Paipai depend on weather and meteorological observations.

He shared the interpretation of climate data assists in preparation for sugarcane calendar of activities, including best times for land preparation, planting, cultivation, fertilizer application, weed control, planting of subsistence crops and the harvest of sugarcane for his 16 acres of farmland in Paipai.

 “You can see my land on the other side. I have already harvested 50 plus tonnes in this area and very soon I will grade it, plough it and I will plant new cane there.”

“But whenever we want to plough the land and prepare the land for planting, there are certain things we need to consider, sugarcane needs to be planted at soil temperatures between 28°C to 32 °C, the climate, the rainfall and the most important - sunlight. If we work according to all these things, the sugarcane result is always good,” said Master Kishore.

Doreen Pillay (Photo: UNDP/Andrea Waqa-Montu)

Doreen Pillay, the observer for the climate station in this sugarcane sector said “a quarterly statement is sent to FMS, which is publicly released advising sugarcane growers on the weather forecast — upcoming 3 months weather scenario. Through various platforms, sugarcane farmers, are advised on what climate to expect during the growing season. SRIF facilitates the provision of 

advisories to sugarcane farmers through the quarterly bulletins released by Fiji Met.”

According to Ms. Pillay, recently temperatures in Paipai have dropped to 13°C. A drop-in temperature affects sugarcane growth.

With sugarcane farming, everything has a process and has an order. When the crop is approximately five to six months old, sugarcane is meant to grow in height. The cane takes on nutrients from the soil, sunlight and temperatures must be approximately 16°. A decrease in temperature to 13°C sets in the premature process of sucrose accumulation that should take place when the cane is 9 months old. Thus the yield by weight decreases, resulting in sugarcane being stunted.

Rainfall and temperature in correct measures contribute to a good crop. ‘Mana' sugarcane variety predominately grown in Viti Levu, requires enough sunlight and just the right amount of rainfall and temperature for sugar content to increase.

The cane belt areas in Fiji is divided into 38 sectors, that have 38 rain gauges recording rainfall each day and accumulated month. Sugarcane production is good when there is enough rainfall for the period December to March, a period when temperatures are expected to be very warm.

According to the SRIF Acting Chief Executive Officer, Prem Naidu, the 120 days from December to March, Fiji’s peak hot weather time, farmers need 70 to 80 days of rain for good sugarcane production. Rainfall along with good sunshine during this month has proven to have a good effect on sugarcane.  

May to July is Fiji’s coolest months and temperatures are expected to be low to maximize the sugar inside the cane stock.   

“We look at certain years and see when production is high, we go back and see how the weather has played its part. Sometimes you will hear in the media, how many tonnes it takes to make one tonne of sugar and when that number goes up, we know that the weather was not very conducive for sugar formation, said Mr. Naidu. 

Rainfall outlooks provided by FMS also affect mill operation said Ms. Pillay, “for example, when the rainfall outlook is above average during harvesting season, the mill operation is likely to be longer as there would be a significant hindrance in harvesting and transportation of harvested cane to the mills in wet condition thus appropriate budgetary provisions need to be made to cater for this.”

It is, therefore important that farmers are provided with accurate weather information.

RESPAC

The RESPAC project funded by the Russian Federation supports FMS and National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS) in the region to build a platform in which the science of capturing, storing and analysing climate and meteorological data can be better understood by Meteorological offices and by all end-users. A crucial component of the work involves the collecting and recording of quality climate data that can be repackaged as information to help communities, businesses and local industries in their planning, preparation and decision making.

In August and September of 2018, the UNDP RESPAC project provided two training sessions to build capacity and skills for climate observers. The refresher training on Climate observations and Reporting workshop held at FMS saw 60 participants from various sectors including the Water Authority of Fiji, Energy Fiji Limited, National Disaster Management Office, Ministry of Agriculture, SRIF, FSC attend to improve quality of climate reporting from across Fiji.  

Mr. Prakash said “RESPAC came on board in 2018 with assistance to train our observers and technicians because we saw a deteriorating standard of reporting from our people who were taking observations from the field. So, RESPAC helped us greatly to improve our manual weather observations as well.”

FMS Trainer, Sajiva Nand said "If we don't train them to be competent in the field, the accuracy of the data drops and our standard drops. The support rendered by UNDP helps improve FMS services.”

Availability and access to climate information is important; allows Fiji to forge confidently with decisions related to core industries that contribute enormously to the economy, and importantly contributes to the strengthening of climate resilience by taking the science-based information of the Fiji Meteorological Services on board. 

The UNDP RESPAC project through the funding of the Russian Federation conducted Regional Training in Fiji by Fiji Meteorological Services (FMS) for close to 60 observers from the Sugar Research facility, agriculture, and National Disaster Management officers. Sajiva Nand, Training Officer, FMS carrying out the Climate Observer Training. (Photo: UNDP)

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This article was first published in The Fiji Times on Saturday, 7 December 2019 titled 'Keeping a check on the weather.'

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