Building the Resilience of South Asia’s Smallholder Farmers Through Effective Climate Services
Climatic variability and weather extremes are among the most crucial socio-environmental challenges faced in South Asia and Bangladesh in particular. This is due to Bangladesh’s geographic exposure to the coast, social vulnerability, low income, reliance on climate-sensitive sectors including agriculture, and challenges in adapting to climate change. Climate extremes and variability continue to be an issue for smallholder farmers, who make numerous crop management decisions that are heavily influenced by the climate. Greater seasonal variability can mean farmers incur considerable losses during unfavorable years, or fail to make the best out of a favorable season.
This creates a need for the availability of an accurate and reliable temperature, precipitation and storm forecasting, as well as forewarning of extreme weather events. When combined with crop management advisories and efforts to educate farmers to make better, climate-informed decisions, climate services can assist smallholder farmers to adapt to changing weather conditions and mitigate climate risks.
Climate Services for Resilient Development (CSRD) is a global partnership that is committed to promoting and providing climate services information to build resilience among small hold farmers to the impacts of climactic variability and weather shocks. Led by the Government of the United States 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).
The CSRD consortium in South Asia is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in partnership with the Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD), Bangladesh Department of Agricultural Extension (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).
In South Asia, CSRD focusses on key applied research and development activities 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, spatial disease risk assessments for cereals and legume crops, regional drought forecasting and early warning systems, and overall efforts to increase awareness of agro-meteorological forecasts.
Strengthening partnerships for climate services
Partnerships are a crucial ingredient in CSRD’s successes in South Asia. Following the formalization of partnerships with CIMMYT in 2017, BMD formally started working with CSRD scientists to generate and extend climate information to farmers through Bangladesh’s Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), so they can reduce production risks. The risk of encountering drought or flooding, the timing and intensity of rainfall, probability influence the decisions farmers make with respect to crop and livestock management, including but not limited to choose of crop species and variety, when to sow, fertilize, irrigate or harvest, in addition to key pest and disease management decisions.
“Working with CIMMYT and other national and international partners, BMD benefits from CSRD activities which aim to integrate agriculturally relevant meteorological information into easy-to-use and demand-driven decision support platforms to improve climate advisory services and crop management” said Mr. Shamsuddin Ahmed, Director, BMD. “CSRD aims to develop new tools, services, and approaches that would adapt technology in BMD and reduce organizational gaps to strengthen climate resilience through robust climate services in Bangladesh.”
Transferring participatory climate services approaches from Africa to South Asia
CSRD supports climate services capacity development for a more resilient future. The activity works to increase climatologist’s skills in generating climate information, and making this information easy to understand by farmers and other decision makers in the agricultural sector. CSRD therefore also focusses on developing appropriate training and technical materials on climate services for extension services and farmers. Working with the University of Reading, CSRD is introducing the Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture (PICSA) approach to popularizing climate services among farmers. PICSA has been widely used Africa and is now being led in South Asia for the first time. The approach involves agricultural extension staff working with groups of farmers ahead of the season to analyze historical climate data and use participatory tools to develop and choose crop, livestock and livelihood options best suited to farmers’ circumstances.
Cutting-edge climate services science applied to agriculture
CSRD is working to determine actionable and agriculturally-relevant forecasting of the monsoon onset and retreat in Bangladesh by integrating multiple big-data information sources and forecasting models. The dependence smallholder farming systems on the monsoon season timing makes this a highly relevant topic in Bangladesh. The arrival of summer rain is crucial in defining the ending of the dry season, interrupting the progression of high pre-monsoon temperatures, and providing water for the establishment the main rice crop grown by almost all farmers. Together with the study of large-scale drivers of this important climatic phenomenon, forecasting tools will allow farmers to make better and more timely decisions regarding land preparation, sowing and transplanting dates. Withdrawal of the monsoon is also related to when farmers can sow winter crops like wheat or maize. The earlier farmers can sow, the higher yields tend to be. Preparing farmers to seize opportunities through information advisories to assure timely planting based on forecasts, CSRD is working to optimize the productivity of smallholders’ farming systems.
Other farmers in Bangladesh rely on irrigation to support their crops. CSRD is therefore working to develop an ICT platform for meteorologically integrated irrigation management services. Working to upgrade a mobile smartphone based application called the Program for Advanced Numerical Irrigation, or PANI (which means water in Bangla), that provides farmers and irrigation pump owners with irrigation recommendations for specific fields one week ahead of time, CSRD is generating useful and cost-saving climate services for farmers. An additional partnership between CIMMYT and ICIMOD under CSRD aims to increase use of earth observation information and geospatial technologies for the forecasting of agricultural drought risks at the extended range scale, and to improve resilience to climate change.
Beating back wheat blast through climate information and disease forecasting
Wheat blast is a devastating disease that recently appeared in South Asia and in Bangladesh. In 2016, the disease, which is partially controlled by climatic conditions, infected 15,000 hectares and caused considerable crop losses. To beat back the effects of this disease, CSRD is working with Brazil’s Universidade de Passo Fundo (UPF) to adapt previously validated wheat blast forecasting model driven by climatic information and forecasts to South Asian climatic conditions. Professor José Maurício Fernandes from UPF said, “The weather-based model provides early warnings on inoculum build-up and the risk of infection on wheat spikes. Based on risk map information, farmers can react to prevent the disease and to make rational, science-informed decisions on the use of fungicides.” CSRD is also working on regional drought forecasting and early warning systems utilizing earth observation derived gridded climatic data.
The CSRD partnership also hopes to create awareness about the importance of climate services among the public. Trainings, media events, and round-table discussions for relevant stakeholder organizations, including government, civil society groups, and NGOs, are a key part of its work in South Asia.
Co-authors: Sarah Sayeed Gazi and Carlo Montes