A new study by the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) finds that many countries are already providing millions of farmers with innovative “climate information services” that allow them to anticipate and adapt to rapidly-changing conditions.
This is against the backdrop that weather extremes caused by climate change are now widely seen as a major threat to food production in Africa and Asia.
The study indicates that countries are mobilising community radio stations, government meteorological services, religious groups, agriculture extension agents, schools and farmers to develop and distribute forecasts and farming strategies that provide front-line defences against the effects of climate change on food production.
Released last week Wednesday (November 4th) in Johannesburg, the report comes as experts prepare for a major conference, Managing Agricultural Risks in a Changing Climate in sub-Saharan Africa, that ends today in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The conference, hosted by the Forum for Agricultural Risk Management in Development (FARM), is expected to attract 200 participants from the public and private sector to focus on practical solutions for managing short-term climate risks while building resilience over the long-term.
The report, Scaling-up climate services for farmers: Mission Possible, is the first analysis of this approach to adapting to the stresses of climate change.
The CCAFS report features 18 cases-studies from Africa and South Asia. It finds that counties are taking a variety of approaches to climate services, which generally involve developing high- quality, location-specific data on temperature, rainfall, wind, soil moisture and ocean conditions, among other things, that help farmers decide the best crop variety to cultivate and when to plant and apply fertiliser.
The analysis reveals that the services work best when they involve broad collaborations between, for example, meteorologists, agricultural experts, farmers and agriculture extension agents. In many of the programmes, farmers practice a kind of citizen-science, using rain-gauges to collect data on precipitation and then feeding it into centralised data repositories.
“The involvement of farmers in developing these services is essential to their success,” Dr. Arame Tall, climate services scientists and lead author of the report noted.
“It’s encouraging to see climate information services emerging that are drawing from many types of experts and engaging a wide range of partners to devise effective strategies that help farmers cope with a changing climate.
“They are allowing farmers to protect themselves from the effects of weather extremes, such as droughts and floods, and also helping them take advantage of especially good conditions,” Tall said.
Prior to the advent of climate services, farmers in most developing countries had been going it alone. While indigenous knowledge often proves accurate, the shifts in growing conditions caused by climate change are increasingly moving beyond anything many farmers or their ancestors ever experienced.
Dr. James Hansen, a report co-author who leads the CCAFS Climate Risk Management research team, said the increasing vulnerability of smallholder farmers to climate risk is a major motivation for much of the recent interest and investment in climate services — not only to help farmers plan for tomorrow or the upcoming season, but to help them be better prepared for climate change 10, 20, or 30 years from now.
The study found that it is best to combine conventional data with knowledge of local conditions to develop accurate and informative advice on farm management. It also highlighted the importance of convening national consultation workshops that can bring together climate forecasters, national policymakers and farmers to build a framework for supporting climate service production and delivery.