The game-changing work of the researchers at CIAT and CCAFS, which uses big data techniques and involves working with local partners to develop climate and agricultural forecasts for farmers in Colombia and Honduras, is named a winner of UNFCCC’s Momentum for Change award. Photo by: Neil Palmer / CIAT

A CIAT and CCAFS* project on climate services has been selected as one of the winners of a prestigious award by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The groundbreaking work, which uses big data techniques to develop climate and agricultural forecasts for farmers in Colombia and Honduras, takes the prize for the 2017 Momentum for Change Lighthouse Activities‘ ICT Solutions category.

Since 2013, the winning team has worked with government institutions at national and local levels, national growers’ associations, and weather agencies in the two countries to provide farmers with advice on which crops to grow, and if and when to plant. The farmers were then able to choose the action that best suited their needs.

Firstly, the team set up online systems to capture and disseminate crop and climate information. Then they used innovative approaches in modelling, climate forecasting, big data analysis, and artificial intelligence to develop the recommendations for farmers. They discussed and analyzed these with local partners, who in turn shared them with farmers through an online platform, monthly bulletins, and regular meetings.

“This is a huge honor, and we’re delighted to have won,” said project co-leader Dr. Julian Ramirez, Climate Impacts Scientist for CIAT and CCAFS. “As a result of our work, we’ve seen a fundamental change — a transformation, in the way farmer organizations plan their businesses. More than anything, this award is proof of the hard work of our partners and our CIAT team of 30-plus researchers in making sustainable and effective climate services a reality for thousands of farmers.”

So far, this work has reached an estimated 300,000 farmers in the two countries. It also helped prevent an economic catastrophe: In 2014, 170 Colombian rice farmers dodged a staggering USD3.6 million in losses after following the advice of their national association, Fedearroz, not to plant the crop in the first of two annual growing seasons. That advice was based on information from the bulletin.

“People might think that big data and artificial intelligence are only useful to computer scientists, and it’s true that they are rarely used – if at all – in agriculture in Latin America,” said co-leader Dr. Daniel Jimenez of CIAT, whose team also won the U.N.’s Big Data Climate Challenge in 2014 for early work on the project.

“But we’ve shown that these tools can be vitally important to farmers, enabling them to get the better of the climate, produce more food and earn more money. Hopefully this award will help us expand our work, and take it to even more regions.”

For Ana Maria Loboguerrero, Regional Program Leader of CCAFS, working closely with local partners was essential to the success of the project.

“What CIAT and CCAFS are doing, in bringing institutions together with the purpose of enabling famers to respond effectively to climate variability, is a first in Latin America. We work closely with farmers’ organizations and public institutions, and empower them to use tools and methods to deliver timely, actionable, usable, and accurate information on crop management. We are essentially bringing vitally important climate information closer to the people so they can use it to make better decisions.”

Jimenez and Ramirez will present the winning initiative at what the UNFCCC calls “an Oscars-like awards ceremony and a thought-leadership event” during the 2017 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP23), to be held November 6-17, in Bonn, Germany.

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Additional information

Key partners in this award-winning work include the Colombian National Federation of Rice Growers (FEDEARROZ), the Colombian Association for Fruits and Vegetables (ASOHOFRUCOL), the National Federation of Cereal and Grain Legume Growers (FENALCE), the National Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and Environmental Studies (IDEAM), the National Directorate of Science and Technology, Honduras (DICTA),  Agronet, Local Technical Agro-climatic Committees (LTACs), the Permanent Committee for Contingencies (COPECO), and the Secretariat of Agriculture and Livestock (SAG).

Funders include the Colombian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MADR), the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS), the Climate Services for Resilience Development (CSRD) Program of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Department of State, and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

* The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security is a CIAT-led collaboration to improve food production while helping farmers adapt to climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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