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INSAM homepage until July 2011

Last modified June 30, 2011 10:34

INSAM homepage until July 2011.

I am writing this homepage in Bloemfontein, South Africa, where Dr. Sue Walker, Professor of Agrometeorology, her team and myself, at the University of the Free State, are organizing for the third time Roving Seminars in southern Africa on “agrometeorological services”. And this time also on “reaching farmers in a changing climate”. Three in Bloemfontein, one in Zambia, one in Lesotho and two in Zimbabwe. Among many other matters, we teach that the majority of poor farmers in this world do not “manage” weather and climate risks in their livelihoods, but desperately try to cope with them, with the often little means they have. We have argued already for more than a decade that this asks for (more) agrometeorological services. Some examples follow.

Although we got accustomed to the expression “more crop per drop”, I recently also collected and published several case studies where the results obtained were better expressed as “less drop per crop”. This means that the agrometeorological services established did result in a higher water use efficiency, by obtaining only slightly higher yields with appreciably less water. You can find details on all these case studies in my Compendium “Applied Agrometeorology” (

In Ningxia Autonomous Region, western China, autumn rains are stored under a mulch of pebbles till the water can be used in the following growing season, for growing watermelons, as farmers do in a surprising farmer innovation on a large scale. One may argue that otherwise no crops would have been grown at all, so this coping with arid conditions of below 200 mm of annual rain is an extreme example of “more crop per drop” for any yields obtained. The same applies to a case study from Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, northern China, where water from autumn irrigation is stored in the soil till an agrometeorological service, developed to assist farmers in their decision making, determines that the frozen soil is sufficiently melted to sow the spring wheat that is going to use that water. Without that autumn irrigation, the crop would not be possible. This is also coping with very particular conditions.

But by promoting the use of a simple straw mulching technique in Hebei and Henan provinces, good social, economic and ecological benefits were achieved. These included reducing irrigation, lowering other production costs, saving agricultural use of water, easing the shortage of water resources, increasing drought resistance, creating sound micro-climatic and ecological environments for the growth of winter wheat, strengthening the resilience of crops and particularly seriously increasing water use efficiencies, but for relatively little yield increase. Less drop per crop. Coping with water shortages.

In a second example of this kind, the local Meteorological Offices are active in delivering agrometeorological services as water saving advices in terms of the irrigation of major crops on the Huanghuai Plain, Henan Province. So far, a province wide soil moisture monitoring network has already taken shape, consisting of 117 stations. This network issues a Soil Moisture Monitoring Bulletin and an Agricultural Drought Forecast every ten days. Moreover, a provincial drought remote sensing system has become operational, which is based on satellite data. The food productivity in the areas where water saving measures were taken, based on the above, witnessed a yield increase of only 5-10%, while the frequency of watering was reduced by 1-2 irrigations each season, meaning a much higher water use efficiency. Less drop per crop.

Two more examples in my 30 full examples of agrometeorological services in PART II of “Applied Agrometeorology” underline such results. The increasing water use efficiency in the Gezira Irrigation Scheme in central Sudan, reducing water waste under traditional and non-traditional irrigation practices, is one of them. In Villa Clara, Cuba, a cost-benefit analysis of well organized irrigation advice has demonstrated that with the implementation of this service, farmers get an increase of only 2 to 3% of their earnings in crops like potatoes, bananas and tomatoes. However, all the beneficiaries acknowledge that the service has significantly improved water use efficiency and operations, to know in advance which is the most opportune time to irrigate. These are water saving aspects. Less drop per crop.

All the above examples found much attention during my mission to Shiraz, Iran, last January, where the orchard farmers I served have not had rain worth mentioning over the last four years, while, like for example also in so many parts of India, groundwater starts to get scarce as well. Less drop per crop would help here also. My book is becoming very popular in Iran.

With the above in mind, we were very happy that the most recent CAgM Workshop, preceding CAgM’s XVth session in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in July 2010, was on “Addressing the livelihood crisis of farmers: weather and climate services”. Two invited lead-papers that Prof. Sue Walker and I prepared for that Workshop show this in their titles: “Livelihood crises in Africa – Adaptations to uncertainty due to climate and other changes” and “Meeting farmers’ needs for agrometeorological services: An overview and case studies”. We were among the architects of the title for this CAgM Workshop in the CAgM Management Group meeting in Obninsk, Russian Federation, in June 2008, confirmed in the Management Group meeting in Geneva in February 2010. So, you can imagine our surprise to find the Workshop title changed in the announcement now still on the WMO/CAgM website with the addition: “for agricultural risk management”! Knowing our stand on this terminology, as expressed at the start of this homepage, why was the title earlier agreed on changed this way? Happy enough, during the Workshop the title remained as it was before.

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