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UMFULA: Uncertainty reduction in models for understanding development applications

The UMFULA project (meaning ‘river’ in Zulu) aims to support decision-making through providing new and more reliable information about climate processes and extremes in Central and Southern Africa.
Future Climate for Africa


The UMFULA project (meaning ‘river’ in Zulu) is providing new insights and more reliable information about climate processes and extremes in Central and Southern Africa. UMFULA is a partnership with agencies and universities in Tanzania and Malawi, linking the climate information to development decisions with medium- to long-term consequences, specifically those relating to water and agriculture. UMFULA is part of the Future Climate For Africa programme, running from 2015 to 2019.

Objectives and approach

Higher quality, more useful information about the future climate and its impacts

Global climate models cannot currently capture, in full, the complex drivers of central and southern Africa’s climate. To gain a better understanding of how the climate could evolve in the future, UMFULA is investigating which models most effectively simulate the regional climate. Our goal is to have a clearer description of how the climate will change over the next 5–40 years, and how these changes will vary from region to region. Our results will improve the understanding of potential changes in water availability, which is relevant for planning investments in water infrastructure and agriculture.

Making climate information more accessible and tailored for planners

A changing climate in the next few decades will affect some of the infrastructure and development programmes that are being designed and financed today. However, for now, climate information is seldom used in planning processes. UMFULA aims to address this gap. With an understanding of which decisions are made, by whom, and how, the project team will use new climate information to target and inform planning processes.

Supporting robust decisions for an uncertain future

The climate is one aspect of a country’s future which is uncertain: other examples of future uncertainties include aspects of international trade and commodity prices, and political cycles. Planners need to make decisions about their country’s future in the face of such uncertainties, and with imperfect information. At a country or regional level, climate scientists may foresee future trends in rainfall, temperatures and related impacts, such as sea level rise, droughts and flooding. However, even with information on trends, scientists cannot predict exactly when, where and how changes in the climate will happen. As part of the UMFULA project, researchers and decision-makers partner in a collaborative dialogue to identify critical vulnerabilities and thresholds where climate change may pose unacceptable risks to planned development activities. The team supports a range of actors involved in development decisions to evaluate future climate scenarios and identify various adaptation options. Decision-makers can use this information to consider which options are most appropriate to help them fulfil their medium to long term planning goals.

Case studies

Rufiji river basin, Tanzania

The Rufiji produces half of Tanzania’s river flow, supplying water for 4.5 million people, water for irrigation and livestock and generating roughly 80% of the country’s hydropower. Many different stakeholders across multiple sectors are affected by planning and decisions about the industrial and agricultural investment required to meet the 2025 Development Vision aims.

Lower Shire river basin, Malawi

Water availability is critical in southern Malawi. Pressures on water resources are projected to increase as a result of climate change, combined with population growth and development. The hydropower, agriculture, and environment sectors are all linked to water resources. The team explores various uncertainties, including climatic and socio-economic changes, that could affect water availability to then identify robust adaptation decisions.

Sugar and tea industry in Tanzania, Malawi and Kenya

Tea and sugar are highly climate-sensitive crops and climate change could affect their production and quality in the region. They are also very important for export. UMFULA is exploring how climate information can support investment decisions and adaptation options in these two sectors.


  • Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (London School of Economics and Political Science) – UK
  • Kulima Integrated Development Solutions – South Africa
  • University of Oxford – UK
  • University of Cape Town – South Africa
  • Sokoine University of Agriculture – Tanzania
  • Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources – Malawi
  • University of Leeds – UK
  • Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – South Africa
  • University of Manchester – UK
  • University of KwaZulu-Natal – South Africa
  • University of Sussex – UK
  • University of Dar es Salaam – Tanzania
  • University of Yaoundé – Cameroon


Professor Declan Conway, principal investigator: [email protected]

Ms Estelle Rouhaud, project manager: [email protected]

Dr David Mkwambisi (in Malawi): [email protected]

Professor Japhet Kashaigili (in Tanzania): [email protected]


UMFULA is one of the five research consortia which form the Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) Programme, jointly funded by the UK Department for International Development and the UK Natural Environment Research Council.

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