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Agrometeorological services in various part of the world, under conditions of a changing climate

Last modified March 06, 2006 13:12

The regionalization issue complicates agrometeorology tremendously. We have to consider everywhere the existing farming systems, changing climates and their roles in the economies of the countries concerned. This includes taking care of the near future of these economies, so also of near future climate change scenarios. These conditions, imperfect markets and “soft states” are the very reason for the damages that globalization (including global warming) is doing to rural areas in DCs.

Kees Stigter gave the Austin Bourke Memorial Lecture at the Royal Academy of Ireland (Dublin) in the evening of 2 March. The Extended Abstract is herewith made available.


AGROMETEOROLOGICAL SERVICES IN VARIOUS PARTS OF THE WORLD, UNDER CONDITIONS OF A CHANGING CLIMATE

Kees Stigter, Agromet Vision & INSAM ( mailto:cjstigter@usa.net )

Extended Abstract

The regionalization issue complicates agrometeorology tremendously. We have to consider everywhere the existing farming systems, changing climates and their roles in the economies of the countries concerned. This includes taking care of the near future of these economies, so also of near future climate change scenarios. These conditions, imperfect markets and “soft states” are the very reason for the damages that globalization (including global warming) is doing to rural areas in DCs.

The author has developed and used during many lectures since 1999 an “end to end” system for the build up and transfer of agrometeorological/climatological information.  This diagnostic and conceptual framework is also used to explain the lack of operational agrometeorological services and information that actually make a difference in the livelihood of farmers. It guides the understanding of difficulties experienced.

A necessary upgrading of the operationability of the scientific support systems is in first instance particularly leading to agrometeorological action support systems for mitigating impacts of disasters. These are “our good intentions”, translated in the development of monitoring systems, early warnings, all kinds of maps, forecastings, focused quantitative models, general advisories, methods in search of problems. However, problem solving in the livelihood of farmers needs another increase in the operational use of knowledge, into actual agrometeorological services supporting the decisions and actions of producers, whatever climate conditions they face.

Examples of agrometeorological services will be dealt with from the recent INSAM contest (Portugal, Cuba), Netherlands, Israel, Brazil, Inner Mongolia and Ningxia Autonomous Republics (China), India, and Africa (Mali, Ethiopia, Sudan, Nigeria).

COTR in Portugal takes advantage of ICT potential for information services to support farmers in their irrigation decisions. They provide as an agrometeorological service a web decision support system based on weather stations, the region most common soils, crops and technologies, and users data. The farmers’ irrigation needs can be obtained if the user inputs his/her own water supplies (Maia et al., 2005). Consequences of climate change will be shown by the records over time and may also be predicted.
 
SAT (Agricultural Drought Early Warning System in Cuba) calculates radiation, water and energy balances to estimate an atmospheric drought index and an ecosystem drought index for Camaguey (Rivero Vega, 2005). Increasing climate variability due to climate change makes SAT even more important! Governmental institutions rely heavily on the existence of this agrometeorological service. It has been fundamental in all adapting measures taken to relieve the negative impacts of drought in Camaguey.

Wieringa (1996), for the COST Action 711, tried to answer the question “is agrometeorology used well in European farm operations”? He concluded from widely distributed questionnaires that the statement for Europe that “most nations provide operational weather services for agricultural users” is wishful thinking. The enquiry review learns that the main issue in Europe is “free availability of data”, while the last link in the information chain, “acceptance and use”, is also weak. Commercialization takes place in Europe. Crop management advices with respect to water (supplementary irrigation) and to plant diseases (minimum spraying) as agrometeorological services have for example in the Netherlands been taken over by private enterprises. Climate change does not affect the system set up; it only makes it more necessary.

Economic success of irrigated subtropical crop production depends climatically on frost avoidance by topographically correct siting. The agrometeorological service of determining frost free places (frost risk mapping) would this way gain in Israel
$ 2.000/ha in -1º C minimum temperature frost years and cost about $ 5 per ha per year under conditions of the Israel economy (Lomas and Gat, 1995). The influence of climate change is unclear fore the time being.

In a Brazilian case study, drought forecasts as an agrometeorological service have been directed towards small-scale rainfed agriculturists as well as state and local level policymakers in agriculture, water management, and emergency drought relief. One lesson that the authors want to draw is “that the forecast is limited by the socio-economic conditions of the beneficiary population” (Lemos et al., 2002). The influence of climate change is for the time being not a main issue. The Brazilian case shows that as a consequence of insufficient knowledge of the conditions that actually shape the livelihood of farmers, we have too often insufficiently taken into account local adaptive strategies, not made the right choices in the use of contemporary science, and indeed not understood the overwhelming effect of inappropriate policy environments.

In Wuchuan (Inner Mongolia AR), winter is too cold and spring to dry for cultivation, and the soils lay bare in principle, because trees can’t grow on the shallow hilly soils. However, with high winds from December till May, erosion in the hilly land is rampant
when the frost has left. Stubble is left in alternating fields, with annual rotations.
Wherever you look in the region this has been applied by the local farmers (Zheng Dawei et al., 2005). So for our “end to end” system, more than average has been done in the livelihood of local farmers. Progress will come from agrometeorological services on better biomass configurations that will be able to deliver more wind resistance and better reduce erosion. The influence of climate change is only a secondary issue.
An example of an agrometeorological service recently developed by farmers themselves comes from Ningxia AR (West China) as reported in English by Stigter (2005). Over large areas the surface is covered with artificial fertilizers, and then with about 10 cm of pebbles. These prevent soil and fertilizers to be blown away by wind, warm the soil to a required temperature, make the water infiltrate into the soil with minimal evaporation losses from the surface, and form a suitable seedbed for water melons that are sown through the pebbles into the soil using the available water and fertilizers.

One of the important parameters that can be measured with sufficient accuracy by remote sensing is the Sea Surface Temperature (SST), which has been related to the concentration of fish population (Das, 2004). It has been shown in India how SST can be mapped on a regular basis as an agrometeorological service, passing it on by fax machines of the Ocean Development Department of IMD to the fishermen, who could then concentrate on high potential areas and improve the catch. The influence of climate change is incorporated in the SSTs.

The first African example is on the famous Agrometeorological Pilot Projects (Mali). Agrometeorological services are provided in the form of useful information to assist farmers (i) in planning of operations (seedbed preparations, planting, thinning, weeding, spraying, drying, harvesting) within a proper time table and (ii) with rational use of their farmlands. Some results are: better understanding of response farming, automatically including the influence of climate change, no necessity of re-seeding cereals, more efficient determination of final plant densities, more timely weeding, more efficient spraying (cotton), more efficient use of fertilizers (where applicable), more efficient water use. Higher yields (15 till 60%) have been measured.

Some examples of the use of specific agrometeorological services in agricultural production in Ethiopia were mentioned by Tadesse (1995). Propose the best sites for new coffee and tea plantation projects; calculate risk factors and know the cropping calendar for coffee and tea; use rainfall data to evaluate pest incidence, efficiency of fertilizers and efficiency of tillage; optimize livestock production and livestock marketing for pastoralists, including under drought conditions.

If time permits, the presentation ends with two cases of climate change related research of the author and associates in Africa. Advises on improvement of underground storage of sorghum in Sudan (Abdalla et al., 2002) and on better design of heat stress protection of millet by shelterbelts in Nigeria (Onyewotu et al., 2003) are agrometeorological services for which absorption capacity appeared limited by local extension conditions.

In conclusion, the lessons learned point towards a need to, by all means, bridge the gaps towards the livelihoods of farmers.  For any lasting success of agrometeorological services, such bridging should be funded, organized and permanently evaluated through the training of intermediaries. Climate change makes this only more necessary.

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