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INSAM homepage until December 2007

Last modified December 23, 2007 14:45

INSAM homepage until December 2007

Why do we practise agrometeorology? To occupy and amuse ourselves with understanding the relationship between weather/climate and agricultural production in the widest sense, using all kinds of interesting methodologies? While it is for others to use the knowledge so obtained? Or do we want to try to make a difference ourselves by applying agrometeorology to improve the livelihood of farmers and other producers of food and fibre?

I belong to the last category ever since I went from physics into environmental sciences and their applications to food and fibre production and its socio-economic boundary conditions. But as soon as that choice is made, the questions remain where to start, how to build on existing knowledge, where to extend this into the direction of solving problems, which problems to prioritize and how to engage in problem solving using agrometeorology.

And in the end we have to look into the problems of farmer differentiation and solution upscaling and those of the selection of allies, in our fields of work, in funding, but also in the social environments in which producers operate, to serve more than a haphazardly selected target group. With the eternal underlying questions of “why are we with too few to make a real difference?” and “why are we an undercurrent?”. On this homepage I place this again in a larger, presently internationally debated context.

I came to the above thoughts after reading in the International Herald Tribune of 16/17 June the article by Joe Nocera on “Fixing Africa: The old corporate try”. I am a great admirer of Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, the development economist and director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. I consider his “The end of poverty. Economic possibilities for our time” (Penguin/Allen Lane, 2005) a story on efforts worth the Nobel prize of economics if not of peace. The basic questions worded by Nocera on his approach I would like to summarize as those of scale, of endurement and of the enabling socio-political/economical environment.

If for example the present so called Millennium Villages pilot projects Sachs is involved in, in poor African villages in countries with relatively stable governments, work, what does it mean for Africa as a whole, if anything? The same questions may be posed with respect to pilot projects in Africa that the Dutch government is presently funding and expanding with several partners in the region of the great lakes. All have heavy soil (fertility) improvements components and many have afforestation/agroforestry components on sloping lands.

We also have asked ourselves the same questions when doing the small scale agrometeorological projects that won last year’s prizes of the INSAM contest on best examples of agrometeorological services and similar projects elsewhere in Africa. The pilot projects that started long ago in Mali in agrometeorological information exchange between a group of NMHSs specialists in agrometeorology and extension intermediaries are another example. They work to a certain extent possible, so what? They have improved the production conditions of target groups of marginal farmers but upscaling was often not in agrometeorological hands. Is this the way to proceed? Are there other ways, such as upscaled field schools (see my former home page on Climate Field Schools in Indonesia)?

Sachs thinks that the West needs to spend massive sums of money to simultaneously control disease, improve farming, create better schools, and build infrastructure in Africa. If that can be done, he believes, economic growth will become Africa’s lot at last. He thoroughly castigated the G-8 countries for so far breaking their (recently re-iterated) promises, because that is where most of the money should come from after the corporations that initiated funding have withdrawn or are only maintaining their pilot projects.

Nocera’s conclusion is that the experiments are doing good, even when drops in a needed bucket, and should be continued also when we are not sure whether upscaling will succeed. Last year Cabral et al., in ODI’s Natural Resources Perspectives 101, argued that the Millennium Villages pilot projects usefully draw attention to underinvestment in rural areas, where the majority of the poor are still located, and that this blueprint needs to engage with markets, with policy prioritisation in economic, social and environmental spheres and with issues of aid absorption. They were of the opinion that projects will need to carefully sequence interventions while strong ownership of such interventions is required at all levels, preventing elite capture and social and economic exclusion.

I add that upscaling of and differentiation in needs assessments are now known practices and necessities that must be tried in extended experiments that should be funded by the G-8 money. The most important and most insecure factors, however, will have to do with the socio-political allies to be supported to create - and keep everywhere - on a large scale the enabling environment. This has failed too often in half-hearted well meant attempts.

NGOs and governments, civil societies and actual policy makers will need us as scientists more than ever to connect improved needs assessments with better products in the form of services based on understanding of (1) still partially operational adaptation strategies, (2) science based policy environments and last but not least (3) choices in our applied sciences in the fields. Let’s find out the difficulties by doing! Let’s change our applied science!

INSAM can be your platform. We reached 900 members and we want more.

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