Helping farmers adapt to climate change through climate services

A team from USAID-Rwanda visiting farmers and agricultural extension personnel who are using climate services and products in pilot districts where the Rwanda Climate Services for Agriculture Project has been launched. Photo by A. Nyandwi (MINAGRI Rwanda)

In a world made uncertain by climate variability and change, climate-informed advisory services can help smallholder farmers better manage risks and ensure means of livelihoods.

It has become common practice for those of us in developed nations to quickly look up local weather forecasts on our computers or smart phones to plan out our day or week ahead. The readily available and reliable information can help us make better decisions, such as whether it be bringing an umbrella for the day or finding an optimal time for outdoor activities. Smallholder farmers across the developing world, whose livelihoods are intimately tied to the weather, have largely relied on their collective experience and observation. Climate change is altering weather and climate patterns and affecting the reliability of traditional climate knowledge. But climate science has also evolved to produce better predictions. Farmers, too, can be empowered by this knowledge. 

This fall, representatives from all nations will gather once again for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23). As part of the Paris Climate Agreement, countries have signed on to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support adaptation to climate change. Agriculture is an important focus — both because of the connection between climate and food security, and because agriculture is an important source and potential solution to greenhouse gas emissions. CGIAR Centers and Research Programs are developing innovations to help countries and communities adapt to the impacts of climate change, while improving productivity and food security, and reducing agriculture’s contribution to climate change.

Climate information and advisory services, targeting farmers and the institutions that affect them, are one of the innovations available to make agriculture more resilient to the impacts of a variable and changing climate. Climate information can help farmers better manage risk, making the most of favorable climatic conditions while protecting their livelihoods from extreme events. But the availability of information is not enough; it must be translated into actionable advisories, and supported effective communication processes, training to understand and use the information. Through its research, the CCAFS Flagship on Climate Services and Safety Nets works with a range of partners to improve the availability and usefulness of climate information and advisories for smallholder farming communities—particularly women and youth—and fill gaps in the knowledge and evidence needed to develop more effective services.

From East Africa to Latin America to South Asia, climate-informed advisory services are evolving and expanding to support more farmers, learning from previous failures and successes. India provides weather-related advisories to tens of millions of farmers through a variety of communication channels. In Senegal, climate information reaches an estimated 7 million farmers through rural radio. In Colombia, producer associations have learned to produce downscaled climate information, which a network of agro-advisory groups translates into management advisories and distributes to member farmers.

In Rwanda, the Rwanda Climate Services for Agriculture project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by the CGIAR Research Program Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and partners, is developing the capacity of the Rwanda Meteorological Agency (Météo Rwanda) to provide high-resolution climate information tailored to the needs of agriculture, through online “Maprooms.” Agricultural extension personnel and other intermediaries are being trained to help rural communities understand and use the new online climate information as well as incorporate it into their farming decisions.

Jim Hansen, CCAFS Flagship Leader on Climate Services and Safety Nets, shares his thoughts:

I’m excited about Rwanda because it is connecting new, locally-relevant climate information products with participatory communication processes with farming communities. Research innovation, combined with good governance and strong partnership between meteorological and agricultural institutions, have made it possible to make climate-informed advisories work for farmers at a national scale.

Find out more about climate-informed advisory services and other innovations by CGIAR Centers and Research Programs: 10 Innovations for Climate Action in Agriculture.  

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Dannie Dinh is the Communications Officer for CCAFS Flagship on Climate Information Services and Climate-Informed Safety Nets based at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI).