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Even the present situation in ACEH/SUMATRA, INDONESIA, bears similarity with problems encountered with introduction of agrometeorological services: another story of parallels

Last modified January 09, 2006 20:33

You may recall my contribution of a bit more than a year ago “Beyond better funding for agrometeorological research” (INSAM Agromet Market Place, 29-11-’04). I drew parallels there between resolutions at a meeting of Ministers of Health in Mexico, on health research funding on one hand and research focusing in agricultural meteorology on the other. The parallels were very clear if you replaced serious diseases in poor countries and poor regions of richer countries with serious meteorological/climatological disasters.

By Kees Stigter, INSAM and Agromet Vision

You may recall my contribution of a bit more than a year ago “Beyond better funding for agrometeorological research” (INSAM Agromet Market Place, 29-11-’04). I drew parallels there between resolutions at a meeting of Ministers of Health in Mexico, on health research funding on one hand and research focusing in agricultural meteorology on the other. The parallels were very clear if you replaced serious diseases in poor countries and poor regions of richer countries with serious meteorological/climatological disasters.

I was now reading an article, exactly a year after the tsunami struck so many regions, among which Aceh/Sumatra, Indonesia, from my acquaintance Meine van Noordwijk et al. (1). They tried to answer the question why transition from relief aid to rehabilitation support in Aceh/Sumatra has been so slow.

You may argue that the living situation of farmers that experience serious problems due to disasters with agrometeorological components are not comparable with the absolute destruction that you find in Aceh. But after relief goods had reached these people in Sumatra, I think that what I saw last April in my research area of central Sudan, which I revisited in the middle of its third year of drought, is not very different in principle. The main difference at present is the lack of attention for these Sudanese farmers.

And what about the farmers in Niger and neighboring parts of Africa where drought and locusts caused disasters? And how about the victims of the recent landslides and flash floods 50 km from where I live in east Java? Caused by the torrential rains and largely (be it not uniquely) by the fact that so much more people are living and working in flood plains, if we may believe David Kaimowitz (2).

According to van Noordwijk et al. (1), at a meeting of local governments, national and international agencies and NGOs in Meulaboh, Sumatra, there were five main reasons that became apparent for the problems encountered in assisting poor people in building or rebuilding a sustainable livelihood.

A first basic problem in Aceh/Sumatra appears to be one of appropriate need assessments. There was a call for more critical consideration of local needs (1). For more than 20 years now, I have been arguing and practicing that in agrometeorology the local bottom up determination of “which problems with agrometeorological components that farmers bring up need to be solved first” (e.g. (3)). This should replace the offers of agrometeorologists of what they are able to solve. In all three above mentioned cases it is true that “we need to anticipate the broad range of people’s needs in the recovery of infrastructure and help communities prepare for the future” (1). Doing that, we should realize that “livelihood strategies emerge in response to opportunities, not from preconceived master plans or blueprints” ((1), see also (4)).  
 
The second important issue is that the biggest challenge facing all organizations working in the affected regions in Sumatra is collaboration and coordination, between agencies and between actors at different levels (1). For agrometeorology I recall Jacob Lomas’ long time call for collaboration between relevant government organizations in agriculture and meteorology. He noted particularly the lack of cooperation between the institutions providing information and relevant advisories and those responsible for their transfer to the farming communities (e.g. (5)), which I more recently again echoed (e.g. (6)). Related to the above is the observed urgent necessity in Sumatra of attention to a “missing middle layer” in this co-ordination (1).

And this is again exactly the need for “intermediaries” between National Weather Services and agrometeorological extension close to the farmers, which we have advocated over already many years in agrometeorological services (7). The observed needs for capacity building in these directions, including better involvement of the lowest level local government agencies, that is presently absent in Sumatra/Aceh (1), has again its parallel in the need for capacity building for agrometeorological services. This is in the observed insufficient involvement through education and training of the user community. The latter includes the farm advisory services that can provide relevant assistance, to be derived and adapted from more general weather information products (5, 6).

The three remaining issues in Aceh/Sumatra are all related to policy matters. Van Noordwijk et al. (1) distinguish (a) environmental issues, (b) infrastructural and market issues and (c) issues related to the lack of base line data and the support to collect and collate these.

Under (a) they argue for example that (a physical system for) preventing another tsunami to cause the same amount of damage has probably been too high on the public list. This is comparable to our pleas for having environmental monitoring, early warning and other predictions of disasters in (agro)meteorology, always directly related to relatively easy and economically sound preparedness possibilities within the livelihood of people (8).

Under (b) it was indicated that many aid organizations forgot some important aspects of “macro” market chains and infrastructural necessities in Aceh/Sumatra (1). Well known parallels in agrometeorology are in examples where farmers do not exploit microclimate or other yield enhancing improvements because of a lack of roads to markets, lack of appropriate storage facilities or discouraging prize ratios between added inputs and higher yields. In improvement of traditional underground sorghum grain storage in Central Sudan for example, mobility and economic aspects had to be taken into account as well (9, 10).

The point (c) observed in Aceh/Sumatra (1) finally is again only too well known to agrometeorologists. The slow process of trial and error in (changing) natural resource use, caused by the lack of base-line data and the support to collect and collate these, obviously applies to routine meteorological and agricultural data in rural and other remote areas. And also to data from fields stricken by pest or disease. However, it almost even more so applies to basic socio-economic data, causing completely wrong approaches in agrometeorological designs due to completely wrong assumptions (e.g. (12)).

With this last point we are back at what definitely is the largest and most important parallel between the experiences in Sumatra/Aceh (1) and those in the introduction of agrometeorological services in poor rural areas: the lack of appropriate need assessments. For agrometeorology, we need to train a “middle level”, “intermediaries”, working as two-way guidance. They should simultaneously support highly needed actions of farmers at the production level as well as the generation of more relevant products by National Weather Services. Without this, many weather and climate products, and related efforts, remain lost on those farmers that need our support most.


(1)    Meine van Noordwijk, Trudy O’Connor and Gerhard Manurung (World Agroforestry Centre {ICRAF}, Bogor, West Java), 2005. Why has transition from relief to rehabilitation been so slow? Jakarta Post of 26/12/’05, p. 6, Jakarta, Indonesia.

(2)    David Kaimowitz, 2005. Forests and floods: drowning in fiction or thriving on facts? Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Bogor, Indonesia.

(3)    C.J. Stigter, S.B.B. Oteng’i, K.O. Oluwasemire, N.K.N. Al-amin, J.M. Kinama and L.O.Z. Onyewotu, 2005. Recent answers to farmland degradation illustrated by case studies from African farming systems. Review paper for Annals of the Arid Zone, in print.

(4)    N.G. Röling, D. Hounkonnou, S.K. Offei, R. Tossou and A. Van Huis, 2004. Linking science and farmers’ innovative capacity: diagnostic studies from Ghana and Benin. NJAS-Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences 52: 211 – 235.

(5)    J. Lomas, J.R. Milford and E. Mukhala, 2000. Education and training in agricultural meteorology: current status and future needs. Pp. 197 – 208 in “Agrometeorology in the 21st Century: needs and perspectives” (M.V.K. Sivakumar, C.J. Stigter, D. Rijks, Eds.), Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 103, 277 pp.

(6)    Kees Stigter, 2004. The future of education, training and extension in agricultural meteorology: a new approach. In: “The future of agrometeorological education in China” (Zheng Dawei et al., Eds.), Beijing, China.

(7)    Kees Stigter (Ed.), with contributions from I. Barrie, A. Chan, R. Gommes, J. Lomas, J. Milford, A. Ravelo, K. Stigter, S. Walker, S. Wang and A. Weiss, 2005. Support systems in policy making for agrometeorological services: the role of intermediaries. Policy paper for a CAgM/MG meeting in Guaruja, Brazil. WMO, Geneva, Management Group meeting of 30 March - 2 April, document 7.1, 6pp + 1 App. [Also available at the INSAM website under “Needs for Agrometeorological Solutions of Farming Problems”.]

(8)    C.J. Stigter, H.P. Das and V.R.K. Murthy, 2003. Beyond climate forecasting of flood disasters. Invited Lecture on the Opening Day of the Fifth Regional Training Course on Flood Risk Management (FRM-5). Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (Bangkok) and China Research Center on Flood and Drought Disaster Reduction (Beijing), Beijing, September. Available from ADPC (Bangkok) on CD-ROM.

(9)    Nageeb Ibrahim Bakheit, Kees Stigter and Ahmed el-Tayeb Abdalla, 2001. Underground storage of sorghum as a banking alternative. Low External Input and Sustainable Agriculture (ILEIA Newsletter), 17 (1): p. 13.

(10)    N.I. Bakheit, M.A. Ahmed, C.J. Stigter, H.A. Mohamed, A.E. Mohammed and A.T. Abdalla, 2005. Economic aspects of traditional underground pit storage (matmoras). The case of Jebel Muoya, Central Sudan. Sudan Journal of Agricultural Research 5: 89 – 96.

(12)    Lambert Onyewotu, Kees Stigter, Yusuf Abdullahi and Joo Ariyo, 2003. Shelterbelts and farmers’ needs. LEISA Magazine on Low External Input and Sustainable Agriculture 19 (4), 28-29.

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