Equipping Farmers with Climate and Weather Knowledge for More Resilient Agriculture

For farmers in the Indonesian archipelago, climate change is not an abstract hypothesis confined to the world of scientific models and emissions scenarios; rather, it is a harsh reality epitomized by the day-to-day struggle to sustain their age-old livelihood, from the tilling of the soil to the gathering of the harvest. With the prosperity of their families and communities on the line, farmers are intimately familiar with the traditional ebb and flow of the weather, and the increasing chasm between how things used to be and how things are today. Recalling a seemingly endless dry season in 2015, Ramlah, a rice farmer from Southeast Sulawesi laments the disastrous consequences:

Almost all my crops failed before harvest…Not only that, but then in December, June, and July, after we already planted the rice paddy, we got floods. We must wait until the flooding is over to replant our crops”.

Unfortunately, the droughts and floods impacting Ramlah’s community are no longer occasional occurrences, but instead represent a disquieting trend of progressively erratic weather. Arief, a neighboring farmer, readily agrees with Ramlah’s assessment, adding that the flooding is more unpredictable with each passing season, and that he must often replant his crops two or three times in the wake of continued flooding. Importantly, when crops fail in the face of repeated deluges, the costs are real: loans go into default, homes fall into disrepair, and school fees go unpaid. In other words, the shorter, more volatile rainy seasons in combination with the protracted dry seasons and rising pestilence leave Ramlah’s and Arief’s community—not to mention the Indonesian economy more broadly—exposed and vulnerable.

In an era of increasing meteorological and hydrological uncertainty, climate and weather information systems (CWIS) can play an important role in helping farmers such as Ramlah and Arief adapt to climate shifts and extreme weather events. In this regard, improving access to and the application of climate and weather information is a critical component of USAID’s Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience (APIK) Program. A five-year effort, APIK supports the Government of Indonesia to strengthen climate and disaster resilience, working in an integrated manner from the national level down to the regional and community levels.

USAID APIK’s work in CWIS began during the first year of implementation in the form of a comprehensive Climate and Weather Information Systems Assessment. To help frame the institutional roles and actions required to transform data into decisions, the assessment was organized around the concept of the climate and weather information value chain. As presented at right, the key facets of the value chain are (1) raw data collection and organization, (2) product development, (3) communication and dissemination, (4) application and use, and (5) benefit realization. Importantly, the assessment methodology was inherently stakeholder driven, including 650 individual interviews of with representatives from 11 national government agencies, 152 local government agencies, 61 businesses, the media and research institutions, and community members from over 70 villages.

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Climate and Weather Information Value Chain Illustration

One of the principle findings of the CWIS Assessment Report was that existing climate and weather products struggled to reach the “last mile” of beneficiaries, often failing to make it to the communities and households where they were most needed. While the Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) produces many helpful information products for farmers, for example, it was clear from field interviews that key products—such as seasonal forecasts which describe expected shifts in the planting and harvesting—were not influencing farmers’ decisions, either because the products were difficult to access or the content was not presented in a readily understandable format.

In response to the “last mile” challenge of disseminating climate and weather products to the right people and the right time, USAID APIK began working with BMKG during the second year of the Project to ramp up the implementation of Climate Field Schools which provide hands-on experience to farmers in accessing, understanding, and applying the Agency’s climate and weather information products. Far from a typical 2-3-day training, each Climate Field School lasts for three months and provides in-depth training and skills development aimed at helping farmers bolster the resilience of their livelihood. Participants are exposed to every step of the CWIS value chain, from the accurate measurement of rainfall to the application of different BMKG forecast products to improve crop yield.

The Climate Field School approach extends well beyond the classroom as participants put their newfound knowledge into practice through field-based pilot activities in which they experiment with a range of planting techniques, varying approaches to integrated pest management, and the utility of different seed strains. During a recent APIK-supported Climate Field School in Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi, for example, 30 farmers worked together to identify the seed types that were best suited to their local climate while also collecting hydro-meteorological data to mitigate the potentially devastating impacts of diseases such as rice blast fungus (Magnaporthe grisea).

Ramlah, one of 30 farmers in the Kendari Field School, unequivocally concluded that, “Farmers are now better able to adapt to climate change” because of the Field School. She now feels capable of helping her husband decide the most effective treatment for their rice field: “We, the women, are the ones who actively monitor the rice field. After participating in the Climate Field School, I know and understand better the information from the BMKG. Now I know what to do with our rice fields and when we should open or close the irrigation once we receive information on rainfall from the BMKG.”

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Ramlah is cleaning weeds from the rice fields at the Climate Field School demonstration plot. 

Though the primary intent of Climate Field Schools is to increase the capacity of farming communities to adapt to more volatile weather conditions, USAID APIK is also working in parallel to strengthen BMKG itself as the principal provider on climate and weather information services in Indonesia. The Project is, for example, working with the Agency to explore alternative approaches to the dissemination of its invaluable information products, be it through radio, SMS transmissions, or smart-phone applications. In addition, APIK is also assisting BMKG to tailor format and packaging of its products, emphasizing practical messaging around the optimal timing of planting and harvesting.

Looking ahead to the third year, USAID APIK will continue to build upon and expand the successful Climate Field School model in other parts of the archipelago. In this regard, a new Field School recently started in East Java Province, with 25 sugarcane farmers learning to observe and record plant growth; record humidity and rainfall; and integrate cultivation techniques with climate and weather information. It is through such grounded, field-based learning that these sugarcane farmers and their communities are becoming better equipped to adapt to a “new normal”, transforming climate risk into climate resilience