What kind of climate information services do farmers need? And how much are they worth? A participatory approach is uncovering farmers’ information needs in Tanzania and Malawi, and setting the stage for testing the practical value of climate information in farmers’ decision-making.

Climate services represent practical tools to help farmers adapt to increased weather and climate variability and uncertainty. Household surveys can help determine the extent to which a program enhances farmers’ and pastoralists’ access to climate services, as well as how it influences their decision-making to improve their livelihood security and resilience to climate change. Hearing farmers’ voices through surveys brings program design down to the field level, helping ensure that the needs of farmers are met.   

Asking the right questions

A baseline survey is the first step in measuring the effectiveness of a development program, a process known as monitoring and evaluation. In this case, the survey provides a starting point for access, use and needs of climate services against which the impacts of the climate services communication program will be measured. It also helps uncover what kinds of information farmers and pastoralists need, and in what formats.

The CGIAR Research Programe on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) are leading the research-based monitoring and evaluation component of the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) Climate Services Adaptation Programme in Africa, to assess the value and usefulness of climate services being provided to farmers and pastoralists in Tanzania and Malawi. Baseline surveys were conducted in semi-arid districts in Northern Tanzania, Kiteto and Longido, and Lilongwe, Zomba and Nsanje districts in Malawi.

These surveys, derived from Participatory Action Research methods, are informed by past research conducted by CCAFS and partners to develop an approach to measure the value of climate services for farmers.

Team of enumerators, agricultural economist and supervisors from the training session in Dar Es Salam/Icraf Office (Photo Credit: Jeanne Coulibaly/ICRAF)

Hearing farmers’ voices

Surveys were first undertaken in Tanzania’s Kiteto and Longido districts, semi-arid areas dependent on subsistence farming and pastoralism.  

In the Maasai communities of northern Tanzania, the head of household will only answer questions in the presence of the extended family. Interviews were conducted with heads of households in this manner, taking account of comments and interjections from other family members.

Information was collected in both countries on access to and use of climate and agricultural information and its impact on household food security. Researchers also sought data on household assets, climate risks, and gender differences in information access and use. 

Data is being analyzed now and will be used to inform national partners on the needs of farmers and pastoralists for climate services in Tanzania and Malawi, including activities of the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) planned in these districts, and national institutions including the Ministry of Agriculture and meteorological services. Baseline data will also be used to evaluate how successful the program has been in impacting decision making at household and community levels.

First-hand learnings from baseline surveys

Preliminary findings of the survey show that majority of farming households interviewed rely on indigenous knowledge on climate forecasts to inform their crop and livestock management decisions. They also trust information delivered by the well-established network of government extension agents,"said Jeanne Coulibaly of ICRAF.

Researchers also uncovered opportunities to improve existing services. Joash Mango of ICRAF added:

Scientific information is largely inaccessible to farmers in Kiteto and Longido as it is often channeled through radio, and coverage is still poor in these two districts. Further, the information is not relevant for household decision-making as it is not disaggregated at the village scale and is not timely. Unfortunately, it is not considered to be credible by rural communities.”



Recommendations for climate services design

National partners will be working together with local stakeholders to set up climate services in the districts surveyed, and have much to learn from the detailed knowledge collected by the survey team. These activities include training agricultural extension workers in communicating climate services and synthesizing best practice tools for training meteorological services staff on tailored forecast packaging and improving early warning systems.

Climate services products in demand include forecasts of rainy season onset and end, frequency of extreme events, and distribution of dry and wet spells over the growing season.

Given that farmers and pastoralists trust information provided by government extension agents, training extension agents in understanding the value and use of climate forecasts and relying on them to deliver information to farmers will be critical to the success of the program.

Further, indigenous knowledge on climate forecasting should be a starting point for the use of scientific climate and weather predictions. Extension agents, likely already familiar with indigenous forecasting techniques, must value and understand indigenous knowledge as an entry point for both introducing and complementing scientific forecasting.

Radio was found to be an effective means of delivering climate information where there is network coverage. In areas with poor access to information and communications technology infrastructure, the use of social networks and printed climate information bulletins present a practical and scalable means to deliver climate information from the national meteorological service to village leaders and end-users.

Learn more about the GFCS Climate Services Adaptation Programme in Africa, and CCAFS experience communicating climate services to farmers:           

- Scaling up climate services in Tanzania
- Strengthening availability and use of climate services in Africa
- How can we reach a million farmers with climate services?

Check-out the climate services infographic: In a changing climate, information is power

Learn more about CCAFS baseline work in East Africa, and in 4 other regions 

Jeanne Coulibaly is an agricultural economist working for the World Agro-forestry Center (ICRAF) in Nairobi. Joash Mango is a Senior Research technician with ICRAF in Nairobi. Arame Tall is a climate services scientist with CCAFS based at the International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington DC. Harneet Kaur is the Global Framework for Climate Services program support consultant for CCAFS, based at the International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi.