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Accelerating Smallholder Farmers’ Access to Climate Services in Bangladesh

Climatic variability and weather extremes are among the most significant challenges faced by smallholder farmers in Bangladesh. This is due to Bangladesh’s geographic exposure to the coast, social vulnerability, low income and reliance on climate-sensitive sectors. including agriculture. Greater seasonal variability can mean farmers incur considerable losses during unfavorable years or fail to make the best out of a favorable season.

Climate Services for Resilient Development (CSRD) is a global partnership that is committed to promoting and providing climate services information to build resilience among smallholder farmers to the impacts of climactic variability and weather shocks. Led by the United States Government and funded by USAID, CSRD is devoted to enabling climate services – through production, translation and use of information to facilitate policy makers to address problems and create viable solutions. It works across South Asia (with emphasis on Bangladesh), the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia) and in South America (Colombia).

In South Asia, CSRD focusses on key applied research to improve the development and supply of actionable agricultural climate services. These include the generation of agro-meteorological information, climate information service providers’ capacity development, development of meteorologically integrated irrigation management services, weather based disease risk models for cereals and legume crops, regional drought forecasting and early warning systems and overall efforts to increase awareness of agro-meteorological forecasts.

Yet before farmers can make use of these services, they need to be positioned to better understand how climate affects their livelihoods, while also being empowered to make climate-smart farm and livelihood management decisions. To meet this objective, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), which leads CSRD in South Asia, is partnering with the Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD), the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) and the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, to adapt and pilot the ‘Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture’ (PICSA) approach across 20+ villages in Bangladesh in 2018. Wageningen University’s WaterApps project and the DeltaCAP project (https://deltacapproject.net/) are also collaborating in this effort by helping to share costs and create synergies to foster improved agricultural climate services. 

“PICSA is not a tool to convince people to do something but an honest decision-making process to help people to plan,” said Professor Peter Dorward, one of the developers of the PICSA process from the University of Reading. PICSA is an innovative approach that encourages farmer learning and use of climate information to improve livelihood and farm decision making. The approach uses discovery learning style techniques and was developed by researchers at the University of Reading. The goal of the approach is to build farmers’ resilience to climate-related challenges in three ways. First, PICSA facilitators – who are usually extension agents from partner government programs – assemble farmer groups to analyse and discuss historical climate data in graphical form. Looking at the data and discussing its implications, farmers learn the same way scientists do. Second, facilitators of the PICSA process work with farmers to identify what options they have, including crops, livestock, and other income generating activities, to respond to the implications of climate variability and increase livelihood resilience. Third, PICSA uses participatory decision-making tools such as participatory budgets and scenario analysis to help farmers make informed decisions about what options work best for them in their own context. Finally, PICSA support farmers with interpretation and use of available forecasts. In sum, the approach encourages data-informed and climate-smart decision making.

PICSA emphasises working with extension staff to encourage bottom-up farmer empowerment without being overtly prescriptive. The approach emphasises that individuals work in different social, economic and environmental contexts and that farmers understand their own contexts better than anyone else. This means the best person to decide what options to take is the farmer. The PICSA approach is therefore particularly appropriate for women and resource poor farmers, as it empowers them to make improved and climate-data informed decisions.

Dr. M Shahab Uddin, Additional Director Planning, Project Implementation & ICT Wing in DAE said, “We promote the active engagement of women farmers handling climate data and making decision on seed preservation, homestead gardening, livestock and fishery production and help plan their business budget accordingly.”

CSRD is also working with the DeltaCap and the WaterApps projects, funded by the Dutch organisation for internationalisation in education (Nuffic) and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), which will implement PICSA approaches alongside the DAE in Bangladesh’s southwestern region. Lessons learned from the PICSA process will be used to co-create and test water information services, consisting of knowledge sharing platforms and virtual communities. Uthpal Kumar, a PhD student working with WaterApps and collaborating with CSRD, commented that PICSA is appropriate for Bangladesh because “…climate service development is not just a technical issue; it requires an inclusive participatory approach where end-users are to be in the center for developing services based on their needs and feedbacks on regular basis.” 

The CSRD consortium in South Asia is led by CIMMYT in partnership with the BMD, DAE, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC), Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), International Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), University de Passo Fundo (UPF), University of Reading and the University of Rhode Island (URI).­ and Wageningen University’s WaterApps consortium is managed by the Water Systems and Global Change group at Wageningen University.

This piece was co-authored by Sarah Sayeed Gazi.

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