West African countries chart plans to improve climate information for farmers

Farmers need climate forecasts to plan for their future, when to sow, harvest and avoid certain types of crop pests. Strengthening meteorological institutions can help services reach farmers better. Photo: F. Fiondella (IRI)
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by Dr. Arame Tall

Farmers across the developing world are in dire need of relevant climate services. Not only do they need climate services to advise them on when to sow, harvest, and expect rains, but also to help them plan beyond the season. In other words, farmers need information to plan for a food secure future. 

But how can we build an effective system that puts important forecast information about climate in the hands of vulnerable communities, especially marginalized farmers and women, often located in remote area?  One initial step is to get all the stakeholders involved in the chain of production and communication of climate services in one room, and get them to talk for three days.

In July 2012, the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) piloted three important activities to achieve a more effective and equal climate service system in West Africa: the National Early Warning > Early Action Workshops, to set up a National Frameworks for Climate Services in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali. All countries are highly vulnerable to changes in the climate, and frequently have to deal with droughts.

The three Meteorological Offices of each country were supported to carry out their own stakeholder mapping at the national level and reach out to key stakeholders across climate-sensitive sectors in the country. Climate-sensitive sectors include agriculture, food security, disaster management, health, water, infrastructure and transport as well as energy. The National Early Warning > Early Action Workshop, in each pilot country, followed by launching a dialogue between national providers and users of climate services, and discuss the appropriate institutional mechanisms for establishing a perennial National Framework for Climate Services.

The national workshops brought together over fifty representatives from climate-sensitive sectors in each country, as well as farmers, herders and vulnerable community spokespersons, and representatives from boundary organizations such as communicators, rural radios, farmer platforms, and community-based organizations. Watch a video on previous EW>EA workshops for more information on how they were conducted.

Various CGIAR Centers were represented at each of the three pilot workshops, reasserting the role as partners of the Met Offices in identifying nationally appropriate channels to reach the most vulnerable farmers.

At the end of the workshop, roadmaps to build National Frameworks for Climate Services in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali were developed. The ambition is that these roadmaps will, at last, overcome the obstacles to climate information access and use by the most vulnerable communities in West Africa, and beyond.

The main lesson from the workshops was the importance to check on the real capacity of National Met Services in West Africa. There is an urgent need to empower and develop the capacity of national Met services, if they are to provide climate services. Developing the capacity of Met services in the region to actually deliver products that are relevant for their farmers and agro-pastoralist communities is an important priority for West Africa, region where an average 75% of the population is employed in the primary sector. The experience of India in setting up its national Agro-met advisory Service (AAS) Programme seems to indicate that climate services, targeting farmers, do influence farming decisions and can transform lives. Therefore salient, farmer-focused climate services that are reaching even the most marginalized sections of the community are necessary.

The pilot experiences will now be presented during the Extraordinary Congress of the World Meteorological Organization on the GFCS, to be held this October 26-31, 2012 in Geneva, as a means to encourage other meteorological offices across the world to light the baton.

Read more about our work on providing climate forecasts to farmers here.

This blog post was written by Dr Arame Tall, Researcher within Theme 2: Adaptation through Managing Climate Risk. To get more updates on our research and fieldwork, follow us on Facebook, and on Twitter.