Fourteen-year-old Ch Nandini reaches the Zilla Parishad High School in Kothapally, a quaint village with a population of around 2,500, about 75 km from the city. It is 9.30 in the morning. But instead of joining the assembly, she walks towards what is an unusual sight in a government school — an automatic weather station (AWS). She notes down readings — temperature, rainfall, humidity and wind speed — from an electronic device at its heart, and with a piece of chalk in her hand, reproduces them on a board outside the school for all to see.
For a village of about 550 farmers, this information is important.
Nandini, the daughter of a farmer, is not the only student trained to read weather conditions from the AWS installed by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).
Her friends from school, many of whom are children of farmers, studying in Class VIII and IX too take turns.
“My father grows mokka jonna (maize). Since he has sowed seeds a few days ago, and this is the rainy season, I talk to him about daily rainfall which I note down in school as it can be important for him,” Nandini says.
Kothapally, a semi-arid eco sub-region in Shankarpally mandal, has a mix of red and black soils. Its crops — mostly cotton and maize — are rain-fed. The village is a part of the agricultural research organisation’s Adarsha Watershed project. The onset of southwest monsoon in the village is usually on June 5.
Guru Lingam, a Class VIII student, is enthused about noting weather readings. Much like Nandini, he too writes them on the board, and inside the campus on a whiteboard with a marker. “I understand that when it rains a lot, the readings in millimetres will be high. There has been no rain today, so the reading is 0.0,” he explains.
But while temperature and rainfall are fairly simple concepts, what is students’ understanding of humidity. “Theema!” a student says.
“ Thema ekku untey jiddu-jiddu anpistundhi (when the humidity is high, it feels sultry),” says Nikhila, a Class VIII student.
ZPHS, Kothapally bioscience teacher G. Rajeshwari says that the school strength is 93, with 40 girls on rolls. The school and its AWS, she points out, has found a mention in its textbooks. Honorary Fellow at ICRISAT Development Centre A. V. R. Kesava Rao has been frequently interacting with the students of the school. The AWS, he says, was set up in 1999 in Kothapally on farmers’ fields so as to gather reliable weather data for agricultural research.
A decade later, it was moved into the school campus so that students could have access to it and farmers could make use of the information. Apart from setting up the AWS, the Adarsha Watershed project, entailed soil and water management initiatives like field building, gully plugging and check dams.
“We have made a presentation before all students and have selected those who have volunteered and are motivated. We then train them on how to read and note down data,” Mr. Rao says.