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INSAM homepage until April 2005

Last modified April 23, 2005 23:43

INSAM homepage until April 2005

In a developing country in Asia where I regularly volunteer, I was recently asked to give lectures for regional agrometeorological officers. I offered to talk on why farmers in developing countries do almost nowhere get the agrometeorological support they need most and how this situation had been addressed in projects in Africa and China in which I had been involved. The reply was that I should offer something more practical, describing the agroclimate parameters relevant to day-to-day operation, because the regional offices operate automatic weather stations that had been criticized as under-utilized.

It is always the same: people want you to address the symptoms and not the causes of the disease. The cause is the absence of an inventory of priority problems articulated by farmers in selected regionally important farming systems. When together with these farmers such problems have been identified, relief measures with agrometeorological components can be designed or improved. This may need analyses in which data have to come from automatic weather stations, the under-utilization of which is then just a bad symptom. The stations may have been a wrong choice altogether. The appropriate analyses should lead to agrometeorological services for farmers.

Around that same time I was reviewing an American paper on work from Africa. The authors confirmed that an early start of the growing season was strongly correlated with a longer growing season. However, they had no clue on how to organize the on-line use of that simple straightforward information as an agrometeorological service for the benefit of farmers. Because there was no mechanism in place to have the farmers informed. There was no way to organize on-line determination of onset dates and to assist farmers in developing the production scenarios for prevailing estimations of the length of the growing season. I had the same experience in several other African countries with other agrometeorological information, that could only be tested with a small group of selected participating farmers, but which use had no upscaling beyond that. The mechanisms did not exist or did not function.

The above two examples just illustrate the reality of applications of agrometeorological knowledge and information in very many developing countries. The contest on the best examples of agrometeorological services that make a difference in the livelihood of farmers, that we started last year, was meant to get the absence of agrometeorological services in its various forms better diagnosed.

The response has been a very loud silence. However, we do not yet want to give up. We announced that in January we would launch a second contest on operational agrometeorological services and information developed by farmers themselves, as traditional/indigenous methods that are not yet anywhere fully documented. This second round will last till mid-April. We now announce that we will keep the first contest open for the same period as we launch this second contest.

The text of the homepage on this first contest remains available on our Agromet Market Place, where also the rules for the launching of this contest, prizes and the protocol to be filled for each example are given. The place of agrometeorological services in agrometeorology is for example explained in the recently finalized draft section 1.4 "Tools and mechanisms in agricultural meteorology", in the rewrite of the WMO/CAgM Guide to Agricultural Meteorological Practices, also available under "Agromet Market Place". And under that same INSAM topic there is a recent issue "Beyond better funding for agrometeorological research", in which a parallel is made with medical services and health systems in rural areas.

Some examples that we collected from Africa of the kind we want now to be additionally documented in the second contest are in underground storage pits for sorghum grain; the use of trees in wind protection and as grazed bushes in protection from blown sand; the use of intercropping cereals with cowpea, improving the microclimate; the use of manured planting pits collecting rainfall and the same combined with mulch use. An example from China is the use of close grass belts for protection of groundnut rotated with sweet potatoes, against water erosion on hills, in Yunnan province; in different form also found with farmers forced to use slopes for growing crops in Eastern Kenya. There are also many examples in traditionally used environmental phenomena, in weather and climate forecasting, such as the flowering of a tree for the monsoon arrival in Gujarat, India.

In the second round of this contest, we want to collect more of such examples of locally developed and applied information systems, that could be scientifically scrutinized and then lead to improved agrometeorological services. The first round on the best specific local examples offered to farmers (see the cases mentioned in Murthy and Stigter), of which more local experiences must get fully documented, remains open.

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