Climate services can improve locally-led agricultural actions

Climate services can improve locally-led agricultural actions

Society is facing an interconnected crisis ranging from a climate emergency to rapid biodiversity destruction and engrained poverty. A myriad of global and local actors is working together to determine the importance of locally-led actions in this regard. The provision of climate services can support the need for farmers to adapt to the changing climate. Within the agricultural context, climate services must do the following: (a) meet farmers’ climate knowledge needs to improve agricultural productivity; (b) provide access to climate related products and their application; (c) provide clear climate information dissemination channels with suitable lead time for farmers; and (d) propose suitable agricultural management scenarios to minimize losses.

A significant gap between firstly, scientific and indigenous knowledge pools, and secondly, available information and farmers’ needs, is entrenched in seasonal prediction convention and hinders the utilization of observational weather data. Local historical data for use in models to generate weather forecasts, seasonal predictions and other climate information is essential for farm decision-making. Successful efforts to deliver climate services in rural areas tactically combine well-established communication channels, locally designed participatory processes, agricultural advisory systems and engagement of relevant stakeholders. Actions to engage farmers and other end-users in co-production of climate services will improve delivery to farmers, security of weather station infrastructure and dialogue among stakeholders toward agricultural risk reduction.

Provision of climate services to different farmer levels, most especially to rural farmers with their evolving demands, is relevant on local municipal, district and national scales. Climate services play an important role throughout the agricultural supply chain. Climate variability and climate change as experienced by the farming sector can have negative effects on productivity. For example, the abnormally high rainfall experienced during the 2021/22 summer season caused havoc in many parts of South Africa, with crop losses occurring due to waterlogging. Nevertheless, with proper planning prior to the planting season, most crop losses could be reduced by adopting locally-led actions, climate-smart agriculture tools and techniques, and effective early warning systems.

Several key weaknesses in the development, supply and demand side of climate services continue to delay progress towards addressing farmers’ needs at local level. However, these weaknesses may be counteracted by considering the following aspects for improvement:

  • Selection of secure sites for weather station installation.
  • Use of merged gridded data as a foundation for climate information products.
  • Investment in climate data storage systems.
  • Presentation of weather forecasts and seasonal predictions on a local level rather than just regionally or nationally.
  • Orientation of climate service producers on local agricultural challenges.
  • Establishment of dissemination channels with rural communities for climate knowledge, improved tools and processes.
  • Development of iterative co-production processes into a national climate service framework and climate policies.

Climate variability and change are major contributors to poor agricultural productivity and as such lead to food insecurity and impediments toward efforts to improve smallholder livelihoods. The role of climate services is crucial for local adaptation and improved crop and livestock production. National agrometeorological services in South Africa have developed a variety of climate products and advisories to empower farmers at farm level. However, the available products are biased towards national and provincial level rather than local or individual farm level. Effective agricultural climate services must meet the context-specific needs of all farmers and there is a high demand to educate rural farmers on climate products.

The Agricultural Research Council (ARC) is the custodian of a network of about 600 automatic weather stations located in agricultural production areas across the country. The parameters measured by these stations include: rainfall, temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, solar radiation, soil water content and leaf wetness. Some of the weather stations have daily climate records dating back to 1900. A comparative study of the climate data between farms where weather stations are installed has shown that the various agrometeorological parameters are inconsistent and differ from month to month, year to year and decade to decade. Therefore, climate monitoring and analysis is critical and plays a key role in agricultural decision-making. To this end, the ARC continues to maintain and expand its weather station network in order to provide climate data and value-added products to farmers and other stakeholders in the South African agricultural sector.

For more information:
Dr Gugulethu Zuma-Netshiukhwi
ARC-Natural Resources and Engineering

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