Agro-climatic forecasts to the rescue…

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Rice crop in Colombia. Photo: N Palmer (CIAT)
May 9, 2017

by

Martina Mascarenhas (CIAT)

Regions

A project implemented by CIAT seeks to develop a reliable climate information service that allows easy access to timely and accurate agroclimatic information in Colombia.

This is an excerpt of a blog published on the CIAT website. Read the original.

Farmers need timely and reliable information and they need it now, especially in the face of climate variability and the havoc it wreaks on their crops, and therein their livelihoods. Climatic conditions can vary quite drastically from one year to the next. In this setting, managing a farm and relying on the previous year’s weather patterns would simply be a recipe for disaster. This, however, is often the reality for most Colombian farmers.

In 2013, to help farmers better respond to new climate patterns and Colombian agriculture to better adapt to climate variability, CIAT began working on the development and application of agro-climatic forecasts. Significant impact in Colombia occurred in 2014 when 170 Colombian rice farmers avoided economic losses estimated at USD 1.7 million following advice from FEDEARROZ, based on a forecast developed by a team of young scientists at CIAT. By 2015, the number of farmers with access to agro-climatic forecasts had grown from a few hundred to several thousand.

2016 and beyond: Climate Services for Resilient Development-Colombia project

Researchers at CIAT began working on the Climate Services for Resilient Development- Colombia project, funded by USAID, under its Climate Services for Resilient Development (CSRD) program, and again with CCAFS’ support. The work focuses on three rice-producing and three maize-producing regions in the country.

The overarching goal is to develop a reliable climate information service that enables easy access to timely and accurate agro-climatic information. The project works on the assessment and improvement of forecasting methods and tools, the automation of forecasts, regional coffee adaptation plans, and, last but not least, a better understanding of farmers’ and technicians’ needs and their capacity to interpret agro-climatic forecasts.

With demonstrated success in agriculture, CSRD activities are designed to become a beacon for other sectors to emulate, not only in Colombia but throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

Where to from here?

A significant outcome has been the change in institutional behavior in Colombia, and the recognition that technology too can have its limits. The success of such initiatives hinges on ensuring that the technology delivers timely, reliable, and accessible agro-climatic information.

Now that AMTEC [the current set of agronomic recommendations] is close to reaching its limits in terms of yield gain, we see two avenues to further increase yields: agro-climatic forecasting and site-specific agriculture,” Patricia Guzmán - Technical Head, FEDEARROZ

In Colombia, CIAT developed the work that underpins the science, which enabled the widespread and sustained use of site-specific climate-tailored recommendations. Scientists at CIAT have also demonstrated that forecast skill in Colombia, though variable, is good enough to develop recommendations of what, when, and whether or not to plant for the predominantly rice and maize agricultural zones.

Data and models have therefore been assessed and validated by CIAT researchers, and improved capacity for modeling and data analysis has been built into the farmer organizations. Today, both FEDEARROZ and FENALCE have full-time staff who work on agro-climatic forecasting and site-specific agriculture. These teams are fully integrated with the information technology teams, which helps ensure the delivery of agro-climatic information on a monthly basis to farmers. Capacity building has been paramount in ensuring the project’s sustainability.

One of the reasons for the continuity of this work is owing to a significant amount of lobbying done by farmer organizations themselves to work with CIAT. Thus, in Colombia’s case, strong engagement from both farmer organizations and the government has served as the impetus for developing and improving climate information services,” Julián Ramírez-Villegas, Climate impacts scientist and project co-lead, CIAT

The longer-term objective, beyond the project’s lifespan, is that its interventions can be truly sustainable and that CIAT and its partners can build a robust knowledge system, with regular improvements and in which very little or no intervention is needed, so that, ultimately, farmers are better equipped to handle climate variability.