Today, 66-year-old Maty Tine is a pillar of her community in western Senegal — a progressive farmer, environmental advocate, and radio presenter in her local dialect. But growing into this role has been a long journey.

“I have deep regrets,” Maty said of the fact that she dropped out of school before high school. It was an era when there were few women in public service and girls were encouraged to marry young. “I could have been a minister or local government official because I was very clever.”

Now a mother and grandmother, she grows beans, hibiscus, millet, onions and peanuts, using the harvests to feed her family and selling the surplus, when she has it, for income.

“That’s the only activity I know,” Maty said. “When I finished studying I did not get any degree that qualifies me for a job which allows me to gain income to live with. So, I decided with my husband to do farming and livestock. After my husband died I continued farming and put emphasis on my kids’ education.”

Maty’s is just one of the estimated 33 million smallholder farms in Africa, contributing up to 70% of the food supply. But, like her fellow farmers, smallholders contend with a litany of climate-related challenges as deviations in weather patterns and rapidly warming temperatures threaten harvests. This summer, the multi-year weather phenomenon El Niño is expected to bring soaring temperatures and drought-induced food crises to parts of Africa, Asia and Central America.

In the dry, Sahelian region where Maty lives, rain patterns have shifted and she and other farmers are having to adapt. As a child, she remembers planting rice and seeing fish swim in the paddy fields. Crops were plentiful and they didn’t often go hungry. Sadly, all that has changed: Now, when seasonal rains are late, her whole community grows anxious.

“We worry about all our investments,” Maty said. “If it does not rain we lose everything.”

The community also worries about the unreliability of the weather — about off-season downpours and locust invasions that lay waste to groundnuts. Drought has, in the past, forced adults like her to look for temporary work in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, just to earn enough money to feed their children. As Maty puts it, their lives depend on rain.

Climate information is particularly important in this context. Being without it is like someone finding the way to Dakar blindfolded, explained Daouda Ndao, Heifer Senegal’s director of programs. With it, farmers can judge when to sow seed and which seed to use — long or short cycle. They can also judge when to sprinkle fertilizer.

In partnership with a local farmers’ association, ARLS, of which Maty is a member, Heifer’s Climate Services for Resilience and Productivity project is helping farmers adapt to the changing climate, providing training, short-cycle seeds and — crucially — weather information through a service that sends agriculture and weather alerts to rural farmers via text and voice messages.

Read the full article about Maty Tine from Heifer International at Global Washington.