Climate services to support farmer decision-making under a changing climate

Photo: F. Fiondella (IRI)Organization: International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)
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A lot of work goes into making usable climatic projections and recommendations for agriculturalists—but what if, after all, the information never arrives to the people that need it? CCAFS’ work aims to scale up efforts across Africa and South Asia to provide climate services that are appropriate, legitimate, understandable, and equitable.

Is climate service delivery a question of farmer engagement, or is it more a question of infrastructure development? What keeps farmers from using climate services other than lack of understanding for scientific data? Is the CCAFS method enough to overcome these prejudices? How can we ensure that climate services are really delivering necessary, usable information that is acted upon by rural smallholders? Share your views – join the discussion at the bottom of this page!

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Synopsis: A number of initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have developed innovative approaches to overcome the challenges of farmers’ access to and utilization climate information and risk management options in agriculture.  National agrometeorlogical advisory services have been able to reach a significant proportion of their farming population on a sustained basis with combinations of monitored information, short-term weather forecasts and management recommendations. The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is supporting studies of agrometeorological advisory services in India and Mali in order to provide evidence of the use and benefits of the information and advisories at the village level, as well as insights about how aspects of the program have contributed to its uptake, impact and sustainability.

The Problem ↓

Smallholder farmers in the developing world are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate fluctuations and weather extremes. Although farming communities throughout the world have survived by mastering the ability to adapt to widely varying weather and climatic conditions, increasingly erratic climate variability and the rapid pace of other drivers of change are overwhelming indigenous knowledge and traditional coping practices. Effective climate information and advisory services offer great potential to inform farmer decision-making in the face of increasing uncertainty, improve management of climate-related agricultural risk, and help farmers adapt to change.  Furthermore, several of the expanding set of available options for managing climate-related agricultural risks depend on information about climate (historic, monitored, predictive) and its impacts on agriculture. However utilization of climate risk management options in agriculture is often hampered by gaps between available information and farmers’ needs.

Providing effective climate information and advisory services is particularly challenging in the case of smallholder farmers.  Common challenges include:

  • Delivery: providing timely access to remote rural communities with marginal infrastructure.
  • Salience: tailoring content, scale, format and lead-time to farm decision-making.
  • Legitimacy: giving farmers ownership and an effective voice in climate services production and dissemination.
  • Equity: ensuring that women, poor and socially marginalized groups are served.

The Solution ↓

A number of initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have developed innovative approaches to overcome these challenges.  A few national agro-meteorological advisory services have been able to reach a significant proportion of their farming population on a sustained basis with combinations of monitored information, short-term weather forecasts and management recommendations. CCAFS is supporting studies of agro-meteorological advisory services in India (which recently announced plans to scale up to 10 million farmers in 2012) and Mali (which has provided innovative services to farmers since 1982), in order to provide evidence of the use and benefits of the information and advisories at the village level; and insights about how aspects of the program have contributed to its uptake, impact and sustainability. Initiatives that have grappled with the complexities of communicating and applying seasonal forecast information have tended to be project-based and at a pilot scale, yet demonstrate good practice and provide valuable insights.  The time is right to learn from and build on examples of good practice in farmer-focused climate information and advisory services, and particularly to exchange elements of good practice between Africa and South Asia.

This new approach of providing tailored climate information and advisory services to small holder farmers rests on:

  • Clearly identifying farmer needs for climate information and advisory services to support their decicison-making under a changing climate
  • Developing through partnerships with National Hydro-Meteorological Services (NHMSs) and National Agricultural Research and Extension Services (NARESs) farmer relevant, tailored and downscaled climate information and advisories, across timescales of forecasting
  • Widely communicating farmer-tailored climate services at scale, through partnerships with various national boundary organizations, NGOs, CBOs and professional communicators’ associations to reach farmers at scale and arrive at the last mile in climate service provision
  • Involving farmers in the design, provision and evaluation of provided climate services, for perpetual improvement of climate services’ salience to farmer needs

Various examples from across Africa and South Asia of how this was conducted, and the various challenges on the way, will be featured during our session.

The Method ↓

The method utilized to broker needed partnerships to develop, communicate and support farmers to make use of climate information and advisory services rests of the following main steps:

  • Hosting of an initial national workshop on climate services drawing together all the engaged national and international partners and stakeholders interested in supporting farmers to receive and benefit from improved and salient climate information and advisory services in a given country, with the following outcomes:
    • Institutional basis of partnership and inter-ministerial collaboration for the production of farmer-focused climate services clarified
    • End-user input in the development of farmer relevant climate services
    • CCAFS collaborations with national/regional/international scientific partners for the production of end-user tailored climate services, across timescales
    • Improved capacity of national agricultural support services to access and apply climate information, and produce farmer-focused climate services
    • National/regional needs for the production of farmer-focused climate services identified
    • Transition towards a national culture of prevention and climate risk management supported
    • Replicable gender-responsive M&E protocol developed to assess the effective usefulness and livelihood impacts of climate services.
    • Ongoing research on combining climate information with agricultural information to produce farmer-focused climate services
    • Good practices in the production of salient farmer-focused climate services at the national-level identified, and inventoried.
  • Strengthening the capacity of national agricultural extension workers and other community information relays (NGOs, CBOs, farmer organizations, etc.) to access and communicate tailored climate services to farmers, and support their appropriation and use of climate information for enhanced management of climate risks in their agricultural and livestock livelihoods. This activity has the following outcomes:
    • Communicators, agricultural extension workers and other community relays (CBOs, NGOs, farmer organizations) trained to communicate farmer-focused climate services & agro-meteorological advisories
    • Lexicon of key climate terms in national languages developed
    • Partnerships enabled with networks of rural radios, public media and other relevant communication channels to reach the most vulnerable rural producers.
    • Identification and diffusion of effective communication technologies to reach rural producers in Africa and South Asia
  • Finally enhancing the capacity of rural producers (farmers, pastoralists, inland fishing communities) to access and utilize seasonal and shorter-term forecasts to support their decision-making ahead and within the planting season, understand uses and limits, and develop local contingency plans
    • Seminars organized by NHMS, NARS and extension service to train farmers to access and utilize climate and weather forecasts
    • Replicable farmer training modules on probabilistic seasonal forecasting developed, using a new format tailored to farmer needs
    • Research piloted to identify good practices in integrating traditional knowledge indicators with probabilistic climate forecasts in support of robust farmer decision-making systems;
    • Innovative methods (games, theater, gameplay, etc.) investigated and utilized to support rural producers to understand probabilistic forecasting, and address multiple envelopes of uncertainty within the season
    • CCAFS collaborations enabled with local/national/regional organizations to support farmers in developing local contingency plans that adequately address intra-seasonal variability
    • Ongoing evaluation and assessment of the impact of climate services utilization on farmer livelihoods, results of which will be available in 2013 and beyond. 
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