Bingerville/Dakar - Unpredictable rainfall in parts of Côte d’Ivoire cost some farmers over half of their harvest in 2011 producers told IRIN, but, armed with more knowledge about how to get weather reports and interpret them, they might still have been able to boost their output, say agricultural specialists.
Marc Kouamé, a farmer in the north who grows okra, peanuts and cassava, told IRIN that farmers “no longer know where to turn” because of the changing seasons. "I lost half of my peanut production because I didn’t plant it at the right time,” he said. Many farmers feel more and more helpless in the face of such uncertainty.
Between 1971 and 2000, rainfall in Côte d’Ivoire dropped by 15 percent, according to Augustin Kouakou Nzue, head of agro-climatic studies in the National Weather Service (Direction Météorologie Nationale), although it has increased slightly since 2000.
In southern Côte d’Ivoire, farmers took clearly defined seasons for granted until the 1980s: rains from April to mid-July; a short dry season from mid-July to September; a short rainy season until November; and finally a long dry season from December to March. Now, the rains come later and finish earlier, with longer dry seasons and patchy distribution, says Nzue.
Most growers rely on rain-fed production, so the long-term impact of this shift could devastate Ivoirian farmers, who make up 60 percent of the workforce. Cocoa, the country’s main export crop, could also be affected - a September 2011 study by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, based in Cali, Colombia, predicts that rising temperatures may make it too hot to grow cocoa by 2050.
Sidiki Cissé, head of the National Agency to Support Rural Development (ANADER) in the commercial capital, Abidjan, is clearly worried. "The desperation of farmers is clear to see," he told IRIN.
Poor and erratic rainfall in 2011 and the subsequent poor harvests across the southern Saharan band have thrown 13 million people into a food security crisis in the Sahelian zones of Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Mali and Senegal.
Donors and investors are channelling climate adaptation funds into improved weather forecasting and more sophisticated climate science, but few groups are focusing on how climate information can better be used by farmers and communities in disaster-prone areas.
“People don’t see this kind of stuff as a critical research priority,” said Amane Tall, who is affiliated to the US-based Johns Hopkins University and the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre in The Netherlands. “They invest in improving the science of climate change – which is great – but how do we make links between the science and the decision-making at all levels?”
The various communities working on climate change – scientists, environmentalists, humanitarian NGOs, disaster risk reduction experts – have tended to work separately, in their silos, but now dialogue is needed, said Emma Visman, Futures Group Manager at the Humanitarian Futures Programme (HFP), which tries to prepare the humanitarian community for future disaster scenarios. “Dialogue seems to be the key word,” she said, “but we don’t yet have the resources or space to do it.”
A few groups are attempting to bridge the information gap, including various national meteorological agencies, the World Meteorological Organization, the HFP, and some humanitarian and development NGOs such as Christian Aid.
Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Mali, Guinea and Togo, among others, are part of the West Africa Metragri programme, co-funded by the World Meteorological Organization and the State Agency for Meteorology (AEMET) in Spain. The plan is to train 200 farmers in Côte d’Ivoire to become more aware of rainfall patterns in their areas, and how to use rain gauges to monitor precipitation.
Nzue told farmers at a training session in Bingerville, Côte d'Ivoire the best time to sow certain crops is one or two days after the first 20mm of rain has fallen. In 2011 this would have been on 21 March in Bouaké in central Côte d’Ivoire, and on 11 April in San Pedro in the southwest.
Farmers are asked to send the rainfall data they collect to the National Weather Service [Direccion Météorologie Nationale), so that agronomy research centres can draw up new crop calendars to help them adapt planting schedules to their particular micro-climate, said Amin Gbo, chief executive officer of ANADER.
Sidiki Cissé, head of ANADER, says corn, rice, sorghum and millet are most affected by changing rainfall patterns. In Burkina Faso local corn varieties suffer most because unlike imported varieties, they have not been designed to grow more quickly with less water, said Judith Bienvenue Fanfo, head of the Burkina Faso National Meteorological Office, which also collaborated on a project that has trained 450 farmers since 2007 to use climate and weather information.
HFP has worked on pilot studies in the Mbeere district of eastern Kenya and flood-prone Kaffrine in central Senegal to bring together communities, humanitarian partners (Christian Aid Kenya and the Senegalese Red Cross) and National Met offices to determine how to improve the exchange and use of weather information.
In Senegal, weather forecasts are broadcast on national radio, in newspapers, on television and via the internet, but these avenues are not readily accessible by local communities, said Visman.
The Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) makes available daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal forecasts, but most people are unable to access the channels it uses to distribute this information and find the format difficult to understand, so they resort to using inaccurate information in uncertified channels instead.
Catering to the information preferences of individual groups can be resource-intensive. In one Senegalese village, asked to set up a climate road show women traders wanted a face-to-face information exchange; men wanted to use the mosque, while youths thought it best to share information under “talking trees” where they gather in the late afternoons.
After just a few months, the information exchange in Senegal started paying off, said Tall. Families said they kept their children home from school when forecasts predicted strong winds and rain. “There is also a psychological element – people are relieved to have the information and it can be very empowering,” she said. In Kenya the project has run less than 12 months and it is too soon to measure the results.
The Met Offices in both countries have signed memorandums of understanding with the humanitarian partner involved to ensure better collaboration.
Richard Ewbank, Climate Change Coordinator at Christian Aid, says such projects are likely to remain limited, due to a lack of funding for mitigation and resilience-building. Despite a complex web of climate change adaptation funds – including those of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), money from foundations and multilaterals, and promises by developed countries to mobilize US$100 billion to boost adaptation efforts by 2020 – it took HFP two years to find funding for its 12-month pilot project, before it eventually tapped into the UK Department for International Development’s Climate and Development Knowledge Network.
Christian Aid has its own church-based funding source. “It’s hard to persuade donors to pre-fund season forecast information – they prefer to fund humanitarian situations when they hit,” Ewbank told IRIN.
However, as donors start to see the pay-off from more detailed weather information in the right hands, it may generate more interest. “If climate services get more accurate,” he said, “then clearly our scope to use these tools will also improve.”