Paving the way forward
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, through its Decision and Policy Analysis (DAPA) program, began working on the development and application of agro-climatic forecasts. Between 2013 and 2015, through an agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MADR), and with support from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), including various entities at the national level, the National Rice Federation (FEDEARROZ), the National Cereal and Legume Federation (FENALCE), the Sugarcane Research Center (Cenicaña), the Magdalena Banana Growers’ Association (ASBAMA), and the Colombian Institute for Hydrology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM), among others, CIAT and its partners developed forecasts that were then delivered to extension agents and farmers through a series of agro-climatic tours, conducted together with farmer organizations, most notably with FEDEARROZ.
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
In 2016, 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 Climate Services for Resilient Development-Colombia project is carried out in collaboration with four partners: the Colombian Institute for Hydrology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM), the National Rice Federation (FEDEARROZ), the National Cereal and Legume Federation (FENALCE), and the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science (ICAS) at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. The work focuses on three rice-producing and three maize-producing regions in the country: Ibagué in Tolima, Lorica in Córdoba, and Yopal in Casanare for rice, and Espinal in Tolima, Cereté in Córdoba, and La Unión in Valle del Cauca for maize.
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.
Learning from and building on prior experiences is a fundamental aspect of project design. Delivering a regular and updated climatic information service is therefore contingent on ensuring that the service is (1) reliable and (2) accessible, and reinforced by the following:
(1) A user-centric approach at its core that builds on these tenets:
- Demand-driven service. User feedback supports the design process and assures that the information is both comprehensive and useful.
- Co-creation of a shared vocabulary together with users. This includes follow-up with key climatic and agro-climatic indicators that support decision making.
- Feedback: gathering feedback with respect to different forms of visualizing and contextualizing climate information.
(2) Areas for growth such as the following:
- A focus on co-delivery to ensure value added and relevant services
- Monitoring and evaluation
- Linking across scales; ensuring that actions at different scales among different stakeholders are as coordinated as possible
Learning rather than re-inventing the wheel: the pillars of a user-centric approach
Quality: addressing and improving the quality of the science carried out
People: getting the right mix of people for the teams working on the project
Activities: adjusting the way activities are planned and meetings scheduled to adapt to the project’s and partners’ needs
Delivery: ensuring timely delivery
Efficiency: improving processes and quality to improve efficiency
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
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 demonstrated that 30–50% of the rice yield variability can be explained by three to four climatic factors that can be successfully managed with site-specific recommendations. Similarly, scientists 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. For instance, FEDEARROZ and FENALCE have now fully incorporated agro-climatic services into their business plans. Before 2013, these two farmer organizations had very little knowledge about how to best integrate highly updated climate information into their agronomic practices. 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.
CIAT’s role throughout this process has been to work closely with farmer organizations in order to understand their priorities, and then deliver the key pieces of information needed to address them. This approach, the co-production and co-delivery of all aspects in the information value chain, has been vital to the project’s success. Another key factor in this overall initiative, in Colombia’s case, has been the continued support from not only the government but also local farmer organizations.
“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
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.
In response to the challenges of climate variability, in June 2015, the U.S. government launched an effort based on public-private partnerships to improve the climate resilience of developing countries, better known as Climate Services for Resilient Development (CSRD).
CSRD delivers climate services, including the production, translation, transfer, and use of climate information, to policymakers and decision makers to strengthen the resilience of rural communities worldwide. It employs a user-centric approach in which users not only know how to use these tools and services but also know how to interpret the information derived from them.
Three subregions in South America, East Africa, and South Asia have been selected so far, with Colombia, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh designated as the pilot countries. A second phase will take place in three more subregions (the Sahel region of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean) and build on lessons learned and replicable tools and services (USAID press release, June 2015).
The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) is a part of this initiative and, in its role as a contributing partner, leads work in Colombia, where it collaborates with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, rice and maize national farmers’ organizations, and the Colombian Institute for Hydrology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM, the Meteorological Service). CIAT therefore supports CSRD globally, regionally, and nationally.
Forecasts combine agricultural and climatic information, using climatic information to then provide recommendations tailored for agriculture. For example, a recommendation of planting dates following a seasonal climate forecast.
Climate information service
A climate information service can be defined as a piece of information that is delivered on a regular basis to address specific needs within the agricultural sector. It requires two key players: a user and a provider. The key aspect of this is that users have to be able to make decisions using the information delivered to them. For example, farmers need to know what they should plant and when it should be planted. An important aspect to consider here is that a climate service does not always have to only be associated with technology. It can be information packaged in a different way.