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Climate change and monitoring weather shocks to increase resilience

Agriculture, much of it rainfed, is a mainstay of livelihoods in developing countries; for example, in Africa south of the Sahara, 40-65 percent of the population depends on small-scale agriculture for their primary employment. With agriculture carrying so much economic significance, climate change poses a particularly daunting threat to developing countries. Extreme weather events, such as droughts or floods, can have serious negative impacts on food production, livelihoods, and food security, and can contribute to fear of famine.At the same time, agriculture itself is also a cause of climate change : agriculture and livestock production contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.

The World Bank estimates that without action on climate change, as many as 100 million people could fall into extreme poverty by 2030, with low- and middle-income countries being the hardest hit. Adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change on agriculture and food security have thus become important goals for researchers, policymakers, development practitioners, and farmers. Indeed, several countries severely affected from the effects of climate change have started to address these challenges by engaging in the adoption of climate-smart agriculture, supported by diverse donors, especially by the EU, through various initiatives at country and global level  (EU brochure Agriculture and Climate Change – State of Play 2016).

In Ethiopia, for example, many farmers have begun adopting climate change adaptation techniques such as crop diversification, soil and water conservation, increased use of inputs like fertilizers, and agroforestry. Training and funding for many of these changes have come from government extension services and non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), highlighting the important role that these institutions play in helping farmers, particularly smallholders, adapt to climate change.

Many barriers still exist to the successful, widespread adoption of climate change adaptation practices, however. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s 2016 State of Food and Agriculture Report, smallholder farmers often face limited access to markets, credit, extension services, weather information, and risk management tools. Addressing these constraints will require coordinated efforts and investments across a variety of stakeholders, including governments and international donors.  

An important first step in increasing and improving the weather information that farmers receive is gathering the relevant data. Thus, monitoring of weather trends and weather shocks is crucial. IFPRI’s Global Food Security Portal tracks a number of early warning systems, such as the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net), on its homepage Price Watch feature and its Food for Thought blog; these systems provide forecasting and alerts for global weather hazards. GEOGLAM’s Crop Calendar and Monitoring Map provides an assessment of global crop-growing conditions, crop status updates, and agro-climatic conditions likely to impact the production of wheat, maize, rice, and soy; by providing up-to-date data on these factors, the tool can be used to enhance crop monitoring programs at the national, regional, and global level. Other tools, such as the WRI’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, measure risk for specific weather hazards.

Collecting this weather information is the first step, but getting the information into the hands of the farmers who need it may require further innovation, such as the use of mobile phones and other ICTs. Mobile technology is becoming more and more prevalent in developing countries and can lead to increased information-sharing. Weather apps and text messaging could be an important channel through which early warning systems can communicate with farmers on the ground in the case of adverse weather events. Further research and development into Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for weather monitoring and warning and into improved agricultural technology, as well as investment from government and international stakeholders, is needed to help the world’s agricultural systems and farmers adapt to climate change. 

The Food Security Portal for example has recently held a virtual dialogue on the use of ICTs for agriculture and has partnered with the Big Data CRP and GeoGLAM (University of Maryland) to improve the use ICTs to monitor weather shocks and associated production.  The Food Security Portal has plans to conduct an assessment of mobile and satellite technology to monitor weather shocks during 2017 and 2018.  These efforts can help target future research to help make food security more resilient to climate change.

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