Agriculture is the backbone of Ethiopia and Mali and provides a living for most people in both countries. But climate change is already having an impact on food security as a result of increased extreme events and unpredictable weather patterns. Agrometeorological advisory services are helping some farmers to increase production despite the challenges.
Smallholder farmers and pastoralists are particularly hard hit by recent climate shifts and their impacts. Many lack access to weather related information for short-term decision-making, as well as to broader knowledge about options to adapt their production systems.
To respond to these challenges, there is a clear need to provide good quality weather information -- both seasonal and short-term forecasts. These must be ‘fit-to-purpose’, in other words accurate and sufficiently localised. In addition, this information must be delivered and translated in a way that is easily accessible and usable by farmers, either directly or through the extension system.
Meteo advisories in action
A number of projects provide evidence that this approach can work in practice. Among successful case studies are the Early Warning Early Action/Farmers Information System project in Mali (World Vision/CTA), and the CommonSense and "Accelerating the uptake of climate-smart agriculture in ACP countries" (CTA/Farm Africa) projects in Ethiopia.
In KoliKoro and Kayes in Mali, farmers can receive weather forecasts via several delivery channels (SMS, radio and farmer leaders face-to-face meetings), enabling them to take appropriate action in their farming operations as a result. Especially successful are ‘meteo-assistant groups’ which every 10 days generate highly localised advisory bulletins. Farmers and extension workers have both expressed high levels of satisfaction with the results. Table shows evidence of practices carried out thanks to the information and training received.
In Ethiopia the CommonSense project, in collaboration with the National Meteorology Agency, provides high quality and localised forecasts of rain, temperature and wind to farmers in the sesame growing areas of Tigray and Amhara. The project worked on the best ways to deliver forecasts via SMS to farmers who are often illiterate. In an evaluation survey, around 97% of farmers reported that the rainfall forecasts were accurate and understandable. Most indicated that, on this basis, they were able to plan farm activities in a way that helped them mitigate risks and maximise profit associated with rainfall.
Asefa Eyesus, a farmer in north-west Ethiopia, said: “The forecast is almost similar with what we observed. Based on the information I am able to determine sowing date and weeding time”.
Woman farmer Mestawut Sisay is one of the project beneficiaries in southern Ethiopia, where she previously harvested 500 kg of tef from 1 hectare (ha) of land. After receiving training and improved varieties of tef from the project, she doubled her harvest to 1,000 Kg per ha. This increase in productivity has helped her to fill the ‘food gap’ – before, she suffered food shortages for 2 to 3 months each year.
In the Southern Nations of Ethiopia, the Accelerated Uptake of CSA project follows a similar path to that of Mali. Lead farmers receive an SMS with weather forecasts, which they disseminate to other farmers organised into groups. They are also encouraged to visit demonstration plots, showcasing CSA practices. The results from these plots revealed an increase in agricultural productivity from 20 to 67%, which in turn has led to improved household income.
Despite the initial successes, challenges have emerged in all these projects. How to capacitate national public organisations to generate high quality information? How to scale these information services? How to make advisories more useful to farmers? The goal is to identify win-win solutions, which build on partnerships between public and private actors to run the systems sustainably.
This article was created through a CTA-led process to document and share actionable knowledge on 'what works' for ACP agriculture. It capitalises on the insights, lessons and experiences of practitioners to inform and guide the implementation of agriculture for development projects.