Volume 62 (Special Issue) 2013

Localizing Climate Information Services for Agriculture

Ramasamy Selvaraju1 with contributions by Nguyen Dai Khanh2, Landrico U. Dalida Jr3, Potoy Alvina4, Philip Chung5, Einstein Tejada6, Oscar J. Mendoza Luzcúber6, Ruben Mori7, Tshithiwa Madima8, Babu Ram Gautam9

Localized climate information products and services in agriculture aim to provide a full range of advice regarding climate, its impacts on crops, livestock, fisheries and management practices to be followed to prevent, reduce and/or manage risks. This tailored information assists farmers in making management decisions to reduce the risks and benefit from the opportunities of our variable and changing climate. Thus, it needs to contain details and inputs from agricultural support services/institutions, suppliers, local cooperatives or community-based organizations in order to help farmers to make practical, feasible and relevant decisions.

Localized climate information services must consider community perceptions, local knowledge, livelihood patterns, vulnerability, gender and reliable communication channels. Such a service motivates community participation and enhances two-way feedback. Enabling of User Interface Platforms (UIPs) at local level is crucial to ensure collection and synthesis of data on local weather, climate, crops and market price of crops and inputs; use of weather and climate forecasts; analysis and development of impact outlooks and management practices; and communication to end-users.

FAO has acquired much experience in this area thanks to the technical assistance it lends to its members in order to improve localized climate information products. Much of this experience is pertinent to FAO partners in the Global Framework for Climate Services. The case studies below each highlight different aspects.

Needs assessment to define user-driven climate information services

Viet Nam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and Hydrometeorological Service partnered with FAO to assess the needs of various user agencies in three provinces – Loa Cai, Yen Bai and Phu Tho – in the mountainous region in the county’s north. Some 200 staff, working at provincial, district and community level, were asked to respond to structured questionnaires in order to assess their perceived need and current gaps. Site surveys and focus group meetings were also organized at the community level to better understand the needs of end-users.

The results show that 84 per cent of the respondents at the institutional level actively seek weather and climate products and services to develop risk information for decision-making. Over 80 per cent of the respondents need sector specific impact outlooks and location specific value added forecast products and services. However, the primary purposes vary – 67 per cent to add value to advisories for end-users, 33 per cent to enhance institutional preparedness for pro-active risk management. The majority of provincial level staff seek climate information for enhancing institutional preparedness while those at the district and community levels seek additional details for preparing advisories for end-users. Some 46 per cent of the respondents felt that climate information was highly technical and 35 per cent did not respond mainly because of a lack of knowledge on the products and services. Over a third felt that the lead times of forecasts were insufficient for meaningful decision-making, and 91 per cent wanted to have simpler, user friendly products.

Capacity development

The above assessment shows that there is a definite need for capacity development and training in provincial, district and communal level institutions and that capacity development for intermediate users should be designed based on needs. Climate services are not used adequately by farmers as technical expertise to prepare impact outlooks and response options, and to communicate to the farmers is lacking at the intermediary user institutions level. Thus, FAO capacity development includes training of provincial and district level authorities.

For example, FAO, the South African Government, the University of the Free State (UFS) and the South African Weather Services partnered to conduct staff training at the Provincial Departments of Agriculture to improve agro-meteorological advisories in two provinces, KwaZulu Natal and Mpumalanga. The aim was to produce location specific advisories for the communities’ emerging farmers, who have recently become involved in agriculture.

Participatory learning and decision-making

Wider, effective use of climate services depends on improving communication from providers to users and on lateral seepage of information among end-users. The FAO Farmer Field Schools (FFS) provide an effective interface mechanism to promote farmer-to-farmer learning. A multi-disciplinary team, participating in an FAO facilitated dialogue in Nepal between the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) and the District Agriculture Department Office (DADO) to assess local climate service needs, concluded that a primary target would be to improve understanding of local climatic conditions; however, the first priority should be to strengthen agro-meteorological networks and to make better use of historical climate data. Such historical data, when integrated into FFS sessions, facilitates end-user understanding, and discussions on, climate products and services.

During FFS sessions in Nepal’s Arghakanchi district, value added information on climate-crop interactions, based on historical records and superimposed with local context, stimulated discussions between farmers on the likely impacts of prevailing weather and preparedness measures. This permitted farmers to gain knowledge on climate variability and change and its effects on their livelihoods. The FFS allowed DHM and DADO to reach out to local farmers and promoted learning among peers. The sharing of weekly weather and crop situations was discussed. This close interaction helped DADO to understand the training needs of end-users and to re-structure subsequent FFS sessions.

Building partnership

Many anticipate that it is up to climate information providers to customize and add value to their products and services to match sector and location specific needs. The reality is that climate information providers often do not have sufficient human resources and technical capacity to do this. Experience from an FAO project in the Philippines show that strong, decentralized partnerships between the meteorological services, departments of agriculture, research institutes and provincial, municipality and village authorities are crucial to deliver end-to-end climate information products and services. Value additions must take place at the intermediary user institution level in close partnership with the meteorological services.

The project brought the Southern Luzon Philippines Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) Regional Services Division and the Department of Agriculture (DA) together to discuss roles and responsibilities in the “user-interface mechanisms” at the sub-national level. A multi-agency memorandum of understanding enhanced the commitment and better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of different institutions. The new User Interface Platform (UIP) led to several positive outcomes, including:

  • the PAGASA regional services division has more frequent and improved climate outlooks as it now better understands the profile and needs of the users;
  • the regional department of agriculture is committed and trained to interpret, prepare and issue agricultural advisories every month;
  • the provincial and municipal level agricultural extension staff have the role of communicating the advisories to the village level authorities and end users; and
  • Barangay “captains” are responsible for monitoring and observing weather from newly installed weather stations and for communicating this information to the PAGASA regional services division.

This result came after a lot assessment, much continued dialogue and targeted capacity development. The frequent weather and climate related events that impact agriculture, the active role that information providers and users can play in a decentralized model, and the identification of champions in each of the agencies to advance tasks justified the effort.

Ensuring equitable access to information

Equitable access to climate information for the most vulnerable populations is a pre-requisite in the agriculture sector. For example, in the small communities in Potosi (in the high altitude of the Bolivian Andes) and Beni (low-lying area in the north), regions highly vulnerable to climate risks, climate information is crucial to implement risk reduction plans that protect the livelihood activities of these farmers. However, the interface mechanisms to facilitate two-way communication for the delivery of such services were not functional.

Collaboration between the department level institutions and the National Meteorology and Hydrology Service (SENAMHI), facilitated by FAO, led to implementation and strengthening of Early Warning Systems (Sistema de Alerta Temprana - SAT) that generates and disseminates hydrometeorological risk information and warning levels to focal points at departmental, municipal and community levels. SENAMHI now maintains software, which automatically transmits processed climate information to pre-assigned addresses of risk management units. The database contains the cell phone numbers of key department and municipal officials. Messages are first sent to the department level SAT interface mechanisms and to the risk management units at the municipal level for speedy preparedness. The risk management units communicate the information to the local communities. The communication to the end-users is mostly via radio by community level health posts/centres.

The system operates well to provide alerts of extreme weather events and is a significant development for local communities. However, the communication of detailed value added climate information, such as the available alternatives relevant to climate risk management of livestock and crop, requires further efforts. The probability of the early warnings that are issued is not currently provided to the communities, but will be soon. Currently, the focus is on reducing the loss of lives. Future proposals include effective use of this communication channel and interface mechanism for long-lead climate outlooks to guide protection of livelihoods.

Considering livelihood perspectives

Localized climate information products and services should contribute to decision-making on community livelihood strategies. With its Agricultural Disaster Risk Management Plan (ADRMP) now in place, Jamaica is focusing on developing its livelihood baseline data and agro-meteorology programme. The Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), with technical guidance from the Jamaica Meteorological Services (JMS) and assistance from FAO, has acquired and installed automated weather stations in all major production areas of the country. The equipment records parameters that influence crop growth – rainfall, temperature, wind speed, relative humidity and solar radiation. It also calculates derived parameters such as evapo-transpiration and dewpoint, and has capabilities for the addition of more sensors, e.g. soil temperature, leaf wetness.

The objectives of the RADA/JMS agro-meteorology programme are manyfold:

  • guide development of agro-meteorology forecasts/advisories,
  • enable farmers to better determine and time operations that are weather/climate-dependent, for example planting, irrigation, fertilizer application, pest management,
  • provide farmers with agro-meteorological information for efficient and competitive agricultural production; and
  • enable better assessments and estimates of crop productivity/production levels.

RADA’s comprehensive national agro-meteorological database is also able to support a parametric disaster risk insurance scheme. Similarly, the livelihood baseline database that contains details of location specific livelihood activities, livelihood assets and vulnerabilities can provide additional information needed for localizing climate information services.

The value added services will include area-specific weather forecasting along with lunar phases, forecasting crop yield and production levels, scheduling of crop planting and irrigation dates, estimation of crop irrigation needs, development of pest and disease management programmes including early warning systems, determination of crop (and livestock) zone production potential, agricultural drought management advisories and timing of interventions, wind monitoring for parametric agricultural risk insurance and development of a database for future historical and trend analyses. RADA is planning to expand the programme to facilitate crop assessment, natural resource management and improved services to most vulnerable communities in the mountains and coastal areas.

Promoting commitment and budget provision

The sustainability of localized weather and climate information services also depends having the commitment of local authorizes and budget provision to maintain the observation networks, communication facilities, local alert systems and capacity development activities. In a project with SENAMHI Peru, risk management laboratories, managed by local authorities, were set up in the Andean communities of Cusco-Canchis, Canas and Puno-Lampa, which interface between climate service users and providers. Meteorological stations were installed in the communities in order to monitor and record local data for input into targeted climate services for farmers. Training was provided to those given responsibility for observation and two-way communication, via email, with SENAMHI in Lima on the one hand and with farmers on the other. The frequency of these exchanges will need to be enhanced to allow sufficient time for the farmers to use the information for decision-making.

The community risk management team prepared village level vulnerability maps for the agriculture sector that specify main livelihood activities. These are the basis for customization of weather and climate services. The community also developed a risk management plan to reduce the impacts of frost, hailstorm and drought on major crops. A communication mechanism is in place to disseminate this information to members of the community, however, capacity will have to be improved in order to rapidly reach all.

But the key to sustainability in this project is that the communal authorities negotiated with the local authority (council) for a budget line to cover the operation and maintenance of the User Interface Platform and the risk management laboratories. The agreement between the municipality and the community ensures the sustainability of the risk management laboratories.

Further lessons to be learnt

As the Global Framework for Climate Services is implemented and more partners join the initiative, there will be more to be learnt from their experiences in improving and localizing climate services and products for the needs of end-users. The aim is to build on the knowledge each has acquired in order to mitigate risks and benefit society in a variable and changing climate.



1 Climate, Energy and Tenure Division of FAO, Rome

2 National Hydrometeorological Services, Hanoi, Vietnam

3 Southern Luzon PAGASA Regional Services Division, Legaspi, The Philippines

4 Department of Agriculture, Region V (Bicol), Naga City, The Philippines

5 Rural Agricultural Development Authority, Kingston, Jamaica

6 FAO Country Office, La Paz, Bolivia

7 FAO Country Office, Lima, Peru

8 FAO Country office, Pretoria, South Africa

9 Formerly FAO Field Monitor, Kathmandu, Nepal


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