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Science field shops may precede climate field schools but simple adaptation to climate should be validated as part of both

Last modified January 03, 2011 13:03

We introduce our programme of rainfall measurements and field observations by Indonesian farmers in their plots and explain the rationale and background of this approach. We then discuss the climate situation and some examples of climate adaptation in respectively Wareng/Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta, Central Java, for the La-Nina rainy season of 2008/2009 and in coastal Indramayu, west Java, for the El-Nino rainy season followed by a rather sudden La-Nina situation of 2009/2010.

Kees Stigter (1) and Yunita T. Winarto (2)

(1) Agromet Vision, Bondowoso, Indonesia and Bruchem, The Netherlands (cjstigter@usa.net)

(2) Academy Professorship Indonesia & Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Social & Political Sciences, KNAW-AIPI, Universitas Indonesia, Depok, Indonesia (yunita.winarto@gmail.com)

Abstract

We introduce our programme of rainfall measurements and field observations by Indonesian farmers in their plots and explain the rationale and background of this approach. We then discuss the climate situation and some examples of climate adaptation in respectively Wareng/Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta, Central Java, for the La-Nina rainy season of 2008/2009 and in coastal Indramayu, west Java, for the El-Nino rainy season followed by a rather sudden La-Nina situation of 2009/2010. In the latter case we also tell about the reorganization that was necessary. It is our experience over the past few years that the most useful and convincing preparedness sessions between farmers and scholars are those in which we are not only talking about rainfall measurements results and the related observations of crops and soil. We are also taking ample time to explain the background of climate change and its consequences in terms that lay-people can understand and to answer their questions on these and other issues of their agricultural environment. We do this at what we call “Science Field Shops”, field meetings in which scholars answer questions on vulnerabilities expressed by farmers, and follow this up at their institutes. We consider this an effective way to connect scientists and students with actual problem solving in rural areas and to prepare future Climate/Farmer Field Schools on these vulnerabilities. Then we come back to the climate situations and adaptations but now in the context of some problems we had with issued climate forecasts in 2010. The most important issue appears to be that we investigate how farmers use any of the climate adaptation information provided and how they assess the value of that information, given the decisions they took and the (yield) results they got, using or ignoring such information. Because of rather negative experiences and often little trust in such forecasting, these validations must always be part and parcel of any suggested attempts of adaptation to climate. Measuring rainfall on-farm and observing and discussing its consequences is a good start to get farmers involved in the dialogues.

Introduction

One of the recommendations of a review of the successful agrometeorological pilot projects on operational meteorological assistance to rural areas in Mali, West Africa, over the past decades, was to continue the promotion of farmer rain gauges to get them at the disposal of each and every farmer (Diarra and Stigter, 2008). Since a few years we are establishing and running programs in Yogyakarta and West Java, Indonesia, to stimulate local farmers to measure rainfall in their own plots, following routines about which we published earlier (Stigter et al., 2009). This has never been a goal in itself. It should serve other purposes in a rural response to climate change.

Farmers are reporting that both the timing of rainy seasons and the pattern of rains within seasons are changing (Jennings and Magrath, 2009). Generally farmers have always responded to climatic variability, particularly to changes in rainfall, by adapting their practices throughout the season. This involves adapting their choice of crops, crop varieties, planting and other cultural measures, while at the same time managing and manipulating the soil, water and microclimate where possible. Climate change complicates this so-called “response farming”, but it does not change the principles of the approach (Winarto et al., 2008; Stigter, 2008a; Stigter, 2010a).

However, in Indonesia (Simamora, 2010a; 2010b) and elsewhere (Stigter, 2010a) there are also social and technical constraints to crop adaptation in response to climate variability and change, where a lack of flexibility of farming systems is just preventing temporary or permanent change of crops. Adequate government policies for the agricultural sectors can help to improve this situation (Stigter et al., 2007; Stigter 2010a).

These complications do nevertheless create confusion among farmers (Stigter, 2008b; 2010a) that extension, backed by scholars, should try to deal with much more seriously than this is done at present. However, extension is hardly functioning well and does definitely at present not measure up to any of these tasks. This cannot be changed overnight. Organizing measurements of rainfall by farmers in their fields may be the start of a series of processes leading to improved Climate Field Schools (CFSs). CFSs of limited duration were particularly held in Indonesia since 2005 (Stigter, 2008c; Winarto et al., 2008).

A reason for advocating rainfall measurements by farmers in their fields is that official data are very often not of much use, due to high differences in rainfall that exist over relatively small distances. Official data are often deficient and what exists also not made available free of charge, even for comparisons (Stigter et al., 2009). Climate change makes it even more necessary to do such measurements.

We act in line with Van Der Zaag’s (2010) recent recommendations that the focus of such a farmer-centred approach would first be to enhance the capacity of farmers

(i) to observe site-specific biophysical and climatic phenomena,

(ii) to compare these with those in neighbouring fields, and, in processing this information,

(iii) to conclude which technologies and strategies can suitably drought-proof their farming system, and which organic or inorganic materials are needed and available to balance the soil nutrient status for optimal growth.

On-farm rainfall measurements also help farmers to understand (differences in) their crop growth, and the exercise may assist farmers in organizing themselves better also in other matters of common interest in supporting farmer meaningful agrometeorological preparedness and learning (Stigter et al., 2009; Winarto et al., 2010a; 2010b). It should be realized that climate change is fundamentally a development problem (Renton, 2009). However, very little information has been systematically communicated to the broader public (Firman, 2010).

To understand why the challenge of climate change has proven to be internationally so difficult for an agreed collective response, it is helpful to distinguish climate science from climate policies and climate politics (Thakur, 2010). Public awareness needs to be improved in the “Global South”, in rural areas as well as in the cities. In the latter this applies to those “suffering” the city climate as well as to those using it in urban agriculture (Anonymous, 2010; Stigter, 2010a). People should be informed about what they stand to gain if they get involved in climate adaptation and mitigation processes (Firman, 2010).

While it is relatively easy to define technical messages that can be communicated, we have to look beyond “adaptation to current climate variability“ and target the basic vulnerability factors of communities. Communication also aims at improving the learning process and creates
capacity to cope with climate variability (Gommes et al., 2010). Measuring rainfall and observing the agronomical consequences by farmers in their plots have been a great start for such communications.

 

Recent experiences

Wareng/Gunungkidul (2008/2009)

Climate situation

As to Indonesia, a La Nina situation in the 2008/2009 growing season gave a rainfall situation in Wareng/Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta, Java, in which not the amounts of rainfall in the ten points of observation of our measuring farmers gave differences in yields over the area. In general, this was of course a season with rather too much water. Differences in rainfall, or even in rainfall distribution, therefore hardly were of influence on the growth of crops.

Growth and yield differences came from differences of and on the soil surface. The rather large differences in crop performances (particularly rice and maize) were almost completely due to the soil (moisture) conditions after the rains, where position (particularly level) of the field, drainage conditions, soil type, provision with nutrients and choice of crops/varieties were determining factors.

Then the situation changed in March 2009, mainly because type of crops changed and a long dry period was interchanged with five occasions of rains above 20 mm, with few exceptions. Different crops reacted differently, particularly maize did not well, although the water conditions were reported from too much, through enough to dry, while crops such as tobacco and koro beans won’t grow because their water conditions were not met (too humid for tobacco, flooded in the case of koro beans) in April and for tobacco also not in June. For maize other factors than water per se must have plaid a role this year.

This distribution of rainfall with too little and too much in alternation, the time of planting and eventually fertilizing on which many data are lacking, must have been involved. It appears that some rather late planted crops (sorghum and soybean and even maize in late April/early May) after all did better, confirming the earlier reasoning of problems caused by alternating drought/flood conditions in March. May had indeed nicely distributed rains of between 5 and 25 mm, after the fields dried up in the last decade of April! This was all still due to the La Nina situation.

Climate adaptation

The main early successes we are proud of are that farmers immediately related the quantitative rainfall data to water in and on the soil and actual crop growth in their respective fields, intercomparing the data and the agronomical consequences (Stigter, 2009a). In the earlier CFS, an adaptation to the often too dry climate was introduced by stimulating the construction of ridges in the fields to prevent water to run off the fields (Winarto et al., 2008). This had been positively validated so far.

But in this “La Nina” year, with abundant rainfall for most of Indonesia, advantages and disadvantages of water conservation by added field dikes, as advocated by the CFS, was one of the issues discussed. Did we in such a year need drainage facilities as well? We had a day of maximum rainfall between 100 and 140 mm everywhere (Stigter, 2009a)! Indeed, also the presence of these ridges (there was also one place without) or the later season practices of widening ridges, as well as rain harvesting and yes or no tillage were apparently of no or little influence on crop growth. But the drainage situation, with very often drainage not being possible without worsening the situation in neighbouring fields of others, was now much more determining. This validation result was again due to the abundant rains of the season.

Put positively, the farmers had an interesting learning experience, resulting from a combination of unexpected weather conditions, precise knowledge of the rainfall numerical analysis, and the direct impacts of related events on plants and fields, while also referring to their traditional knowledge. But it made little sense in practice without any timely information officially provided to the farmers by state agencies that 2008/09 was a La Nina year. Farmers indicated that with what they learned they would better anticipate similar future weather conditions, provided they would be systematically informed through reliable climate forecasting (Winarto et al., 2010a; Simamora, 2010a; 2010b). We will come back to the feasibility of such forecasting below.

 

Indramayu (2009/2010)

Climate situation

The establishment of a 50 points-of-observation network, representing diverse ecosystems of the coastal Indramayu regency, west Java, marked the beginning of a collaborative programme with farmers represented by the Indonesian Integrated Pest Management Farmers’ Alliance of Indramayu Regency (Winarto et al., 2010a).

A number of farmer groups here took already several times part in CFSs, based on the experiences obtained with “Farmer Field Schools” developed in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) extension (e.g. Van de Fliert and Winarto, 1993). The latter gave Indonesia some international fame over the last decade and application of such schools in coping with climate disasters appears a very good idea (Stigter, 2008c). The basic extension aim of these early CFSs was to get the farmers familiar with a better determination of appropriate rice planting times under conditions of a changing climate. The local farmers indicated some years ago that given the changing variabilities, this was for them an absolute priority. The following phases of the crop did not pose them comparable problems unless there was flooding or drought (Stigter, 2008c).

Reorganization

Although the official collaboration with the farmers' organization could not go on as hoped, some farmers continued their individual activities. They decided to form "The Club of Indramayu Farmers' Rainfall Observers" and continued their own measurements with the locally constructed cylindrical rain gauges that were introduced here. They asked researchers to keep assisting them (Winarto et al., 2010b). We also learned here that neither scholars nor local leaders should want to “over-organize” the farmer in rainfall observations and related data taking. Where farmers accept the instructions and suggestions for reliable data taking, organizing these farmers can best be left to their own initiatives (Winarto et al., 2010a).

The reliable data taking is a matter of instructions where quantitative rainfall measurements are considered. In meteorology we talk about “Instructions to Observers”. These are not negotiable in principle, because they are rules obtained from this need for such reliable data taking. We have only relaxed one rule as to a mutually agreed time slot of observations within that reliable data taking. We also agreed to teams of two observers where it improved the reliability of data taking.

What we mean with “over-organizing” is prescribing in too much detail what has to be observed of crops, soil, pests and other environmental issues. We believe that these observations should be left to the farmers in first instance and then later on discussed as to whether that is what they actually need in order to understand that environment better. Farmer research activities can only follow after such discussions on self-chosen observations and what can be done with them. It will then follow from such discussions what is missing for full understanding and what needs to be researched the way farmers see it and how. That in our view is the process of collective learning (Winarto et al., 2010b) but that does not extend to the quantitative rainfall measurements. The latter is basically a one-side learning process.

Climate adaptation

In that short period of observations, at the beginning of an El-Niño period in 2009/10, farmers learned much from the severe drought that delayed their planting season. They applied some adaptation strategies such as practicing dry-nursery instead of wet-nursery seedbeds, selecting rice varieties with more suitable lengths of their growing season and building ground-water ponds, which all proved to be beneficial (Winarto et al., 2010a; 2010b).

In the meantime, since March 2010, the El Nino situation had made place for a recurring La Nina situation that overtook the prevalent El Nino with an unprecedented speed, but we were not aware of that from any forecasts. This situation was worsened by a climate induced Brown Plant Hopper (locally known as wereng cokelat) attack (Simamora, 2010a) and insufficient original density, as well as loss of initiative, of government organized Integrated Pest Management (IPM) of Farmer Field Schools (Stigter, 2010b). Indramayu farmer organizations are blaming the local and central governments for being too slow in educating farmers on how to adapt to extreme weather shifts (Simamora, 2010a).

Farmers had asked us in March 2010 what we expected to happen and whether the end of the rainy season could be any better than its very late start (in December). From the predictions “ensemble” overview, a review of various forecasting models in use over the world, that we follow on the NOAA website (http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/enso_advisory/index.shtml) we indicated this to be very unlikely, but that the present developments were quite uncertain. That was of course of little help. Moreover, as appeared in as late as June, the forecasts in these months were all wrong. We will come back to this in the section on “climate forecasting”.


Science Field Shop

It is our experience over the past few years that the most useful and convincing preparedness sessions between farmers and scholars are those in which we are not only talking about rainfall measurements results and the related observations of crops and soil. We are also taking ample time to explain the background of climate change and its consequences in terms that lay-people can understand and to answer their questions on these and other issues of their agricultural environment.

As to climate, the main crux of these explanations is making farmers understand that scientists are also at a loss with respect to the timing of changes that occur in the surface temperatures of oceans and their consequences. Although we understand that such surface and near-surface temperatures in the Pacific ocean determine pressure distributions that cause climate in among others Indonesia to continuously change, skills of prediction vary with time of the year and these predictions suffer also from various delays. We are particularly at a loss with respect to currents occurring in the oceans and mixing water near and at the surface with deeper waters.

In the Universitas Indonesia, Depok, with the anthropologists we started to call such sessions in Indramayu “Science Field Shops” and together with colleagues at the Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta, which are in entomology, hydrology and agronomy, we enlarged their scope in Wareng, Gunungkidul. Basically, we define such “Science Field Shops” as meetings in which scholars answer questions on vulnerabilities expressed by farmers and follow this up at their institutes (universities, research institutes, weather and other environmental services) with supportive research and teaching to their students.

The idea was based on Dutch so called “Law Shops”, where defenceless people can consult lawyers about their rights and how to defend them. This gives lawyers and law students the opportunity to see (and discuss) where ordinary people got stuck in the process and what is needed to get them their rights. Both sides learn from this procedure.

Ideally scholars and students should jointly take up to provide an initial overview of answers to vulnerability issues/questions of farmers. Such initial answers should then be discussed with the farmers as to what the possibilities/ choices/options are in solving their problems and how they see them from their realities. In that type of discussions should come up whether there is room for and what would be the sense of farmer research on such possibilities/choices/ options. Through such research they may find their own solutions but a remaining dialogue with scholars is advisable because cause and effect relationships is what science has to offer to empirical answers sought or found by farmers (e.g. Stigter, 2010a).

This must be considered an effective way to connect scientists and students with actual problem solving in rural areas and to prepare future Climate/Farmer Field Schools on these vulnerabilities (see also Gommes et al., 2010). Exposure to climate change is such a vulnerability and mitigation of its consequences and adaptation to increasing climate variability and change must be seen as a rural response in which scholars can assist. However, we have only scratched the surface of this issue, because it would need much wider understanding and acceptance in the institutes concerned. We use Roving Seminars in agrometeorology to start to induce such understanding, also outside Indonesia (KNMI, 2009; Stigter, 2011).

 

Climate forecasting

Climate situation

We went back to the NOAA “ensemble” predictions from March 2010 onwards and found that:

- the early March prediction of the March-May period was very wrong. While there was already normal to above normal rainfall in Indonesia, the forecast synopsis said: El Niño is expected to continue at least through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2010 (NOAA, 2010a). Details:

“The majority of models predict (……) a transition to ENSO-neutral conditions near the onset of Northern Hemisphere summer. However, several models suggest the potential of continued weak El Niño conditions through 2010, while others predict the development of La Niña conditions later in the year. Predicting when El Niño will dissipate and what may follow remains highly uncertain. (……) Expected impacts during March-May 2010 include drier-than-average conditions over Indonesia“ (NOAA, 2010a).

- the early April prediction of the April-June period was still wrong. Synopsis: El Niño is expected to continue through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2010 and transition to ENSO-neutral conditions by Northern Hemisphere summer 2010 (NOAA, 2010b). Details:

“The majority of models predict (……) a transition to ENSO-neutral conditions that will likely persist through Northern Hemisphere summer. Over the last couple of months, an increasing number of models (……) are predicting (changes) with some forecasts meeting thresholds for La Niña. However, it should be noted that model skill is at a minimum during this time of year, and also that the majority of models continue to indicate the persistence of ENSO-neutral conditions through 2010. Expected El Niño impacts during April-June 2010 include drier-than-average conditions over Indonesia” (NOAA, 2010b) .

- the early May prediction of the period May-July indicated that there were
growing La Nina chances but only for after June, while there was already unusually high rainfall in Indonesia. The synopsis was: A transition to ENSO-neutral conditions is expected by June 2010, which will continue into the Northern Hemisphere summer 2010 (NOAA, 2010c). Details:

“(…..) enhanced convection developed over Indonesia, (……). Collectively, these oceanic and atmospheric anomalies reflect a weakening El Niño. Most models predict a transition to ENSO-neutral conditions during April-June 2010, followed by ENSO-neutral conditions through the end of the year. However, by July-September 2010, the envelope of model solutions includes a significant number (nearly a third) indicating the onset of La Niña conditions. Even though ENSO-neutral conditions are most likely during the second half of the year, the general tendency of the models in recent months (……) indicate a growing possibility of La Niña developing during the second half of 2010” (NOAA, 2010c).

- the early June prediction (of the June-August period) suddenly admitted that
their forecast for May had been wrong and opposite to what actually happened
above Indonesia in May (as our farmers experienced). The synopsis was: Conditions are favorable for a transition to La Niña conditions during June – August 2010 (NOAA, 2010d). Details:

“El Niño dissipated during May 2010 (……). Also during May, enhanced convection persisted over Indonesia, (……). Collectively, these oceanic and atmospheric anomalies reflect the demise of El Niño and return of ENSO-neutral conditions. The majority of models predict ENSO-neutral conditions (……). However, over the last several months, a growing number of models (……) indicate the onset of La Niña conditions during June-August 2010. There is an increasing confidence in these colder model forecasts, which is supported by recent observations that show cooling trends in the Pacific Ocean and signs of coupling with the atmospheric circulation. Therefore, conditions are favorable for a transition to La Niña conditions during June-August 2010” (NOAA, 2010d).

Also BMKG (the Indonesian National Weather Service) was completely wrong at the usual end of the rainy season of 2009/2010, by forecasting for some areas an early dry season, between late March and May, with most areas likely to have a normal dry season in June. Only at the end of May it started to warn for heavy rains and to blame these anomalies and unpredictabilities on global warming (Simamora, 2010c).


Climate adaptation

So, once we would try to give information to farmers formally, for adaptation purposes, initially as part of the “Science Field Shops”, we have to make them aware that things really can be wrong. We will for example have to give systematically timely information for possible adaptation to the climate forecasts in the most trustable way and in a form the farmers indicate they need most (e.g. Nanja, 2011). Farmers in Indramayu were recently quoted as saying they indeed needed only a simple weather forecasting system that could be translated into easy language (Simamora, 2010b). “We don’t understand expected rain rates or terms like El Nino and La Nina. The most important information is simply when the rainy or dry seasons will come and for how long. And will it be normal or not”. An Agricultural Ministry official said weather forecast updates were crucial to paddy farming management in Indonesia (Simamora, 2010b).

However, we must also make clear that there are unwarranted expectations. Specific local weather forecasts are for the time being simply not feasible in Indonesia and one must argue that the more local the forecasts must be, the larger their uncertainties become. It may well be beyond what is possible due to the intrinsically chaotic nature of the atmosphere (Stigter, 2009b). Statements as “The perception among farmers on the reliability of seasonal climate forecasting is shaped by their expectations and existing beliefs. The climate institution has not yet provided the high resolution required by farmers, and good forecasting skills for normal conditions.” (Simamora, 2010b) show an unrealistic pattern of expectations that has to be corrected in “Science Field Shops”, that must become widely spread, and in subsequent Climate Field Schools.

We would never have been able to forecast what happened in the dry season in Indonesia in 2010 using the NOAA predictions, so the farmers would remain confused, together with the scholars, in case of such fast changes from El-Nino to La-Nina as recently happened. However, the most important issue is that we investigate how they use any of the climate adaptation information provided and how they assess the value of that information given the decisions they took and the (yield) results they got, using or ignoring such information. Because of rather negative experiences and often little trust in such forecasting (Stigter, 2010a; Simamora, 2010b), these validations must always be part and parcel of any suggested attempts of adaptation to climate.

 

Final remarks

Such “Science Field Shops” should after all not get institutionalized but should only precede the training of extension intermediaries at these same institutes (research institutes, universities, weather and other environmental services) for the establishment of Climate/Farmer Field Schools with farmers on a permanent basis. Syllabi for such Climate Field Schools and for training the extension intermediaries as trainers in these CFSs were given in WMO (2009) and Stigter (2010a).

In terms of a rural response to climate change, such institutionalized learning and action preparations, as a basis for response farming, appear the best bet for designing and carrying out adaptation strategies to climate change. But we can’t just wait till such new extension situations come into existence. We have to slowly get them built. Starting with trying out and improving “Science Field Shops” would be a good beginning. And also as part of such a beginning, validations of simple adaptations to climate as suggested above should be taken up. Measuring rainfall on-farm and observing and discussing its consequences is a good start to get farmers involved in the dialogues.

 

References

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  31. Winarto, Yunita, T., Kees Stigter, Esti Anantasari, Hestu Prahara and Kristyanto, 2010b. Agrometeorological learning of farmers through measuring rainfall and observing fields and crops. INSAM website under “Accounts of Operational Agrometeorology” of 8 November. http://www.agrometeorology.org/topics/accounts-of-operational-agrometeorology/agrometeorological-learning-of-farmers-through-measuring-rainfall-and-observing-fields-and-crops
  32. WMO (2009) Guidelines for curricula in agricultural meteorology. Supplement No. 2 to “Guide-lines for the education and training of personnel in meteorology and operational hydrology”, Vol. 1, WMO 258, Geneva. http://www.wmo.int/pages/prog/dra/etrp/documents/258_vol1_Supp_2_1.pdf
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