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Meteorological and Indigenous Knowledge-Based Forecasting for Reducing Poor Populations’ Vulnerability to Climate Change and Variability
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Meteorological and Indigenous Knowledge-Based Forecasting for Reducing Poor Populations’ Vulnerability to Climate Change and Variability


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This article is written on an initiative that aims at reducing poor populations’ vulnerability to climate change and variability through meteorological and Indigenous Knowledge-Based Forecasting.

This article is written on an initiative that aims at reducing poor populations’ vulnerability to climate change and variability through meteorological and Indigenous Knowledge-Based Forecasting.

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  • 1. Meteorological and Indigenous Knowledge-Based Forecasting for Reducing PoorPopulations’ Vulnerability to Climate Changeand Variability1Fréjus Thoto and Saïd HounkponouCorresponding author: PO Box: 660 Abomey-Calavi, Benin;Email: Phone: + (229) 96 38 60 15AbstractThe extreme variability of climate in recent decades, isthreatening the food security of rural populations in Beninleading to a decline in farm yields. An early warningsystem and agro-meteorological information thatintegrates indigenous knowledge on climate was the focusof this project aimed at reducing vulnerability to climatechange and variability. The effective collection andcommunication of requisite information was madepossible through the implementation of a multi-stakeholders’ platform where climate data was collectedfrom various sources and tailored towards farmers’ needs.The data was processed at: 1) national level where generalforecasts were made by a multi-actors panel, and 2) local1We acknowledge financial assistance from IDRC and DFID for thepurposes of this study. 1
  • 2. community level where general forecasts were re-adaptedto local context and during which indigenous knowledgewas integrated. The data was used to prepare bi-monthlyforecasts, which provided basic information which aidedin providing functional counseling to farmers. Seasonalforecasts, and climate related counseling weredisseminated to farmers through local radio, extensionservices and local pre-alert committees to facilitate thefarmers’ decision-taking. Given that most of the farmerswithin the project area acknowledged the importance ofthis climate information, about 66% of them expressedwillingness to pay in order to receive such climate-relatedservices. The project’s farmers consistently reportedhigher yields, and correspondingly higher incomes (10%to 80% increases relative to those not in project areas, i.e.than those producing crops without the benefit of locallytailored weather data). This approach could furtherstrengthen the adaptive capacity of rural producers toclimate change and variability.Keywords: climate change, early warning system,indigenous knowledge, farmers, Benin 2
  • 3. Prévision basée sur les donnéesmétéorologiques et les connaissancesautochtones pour la réduction de lavulnérabilité des populations pauvres à lavariabilité et aux changements Climatiques.RésuméLextrême variabilité du climat observée au cours desdernières décennies et traduite par la diminution durendement des cultures menace la sécurité alimentaire despopulations rurales au Bénin. Lélaboration dun systèmedalerte précoce et dinformation agro-météorologique quiintègre les connaissances autochtones sur le climat a faitlobjet du projet visant à réduire la vulnérabilité auchangement climatique et à la variabilité. La collecteefficace et la communication de linformation requise a étérendue possible grâce à la conception et la mise en œuvrede plates-formes multi-acteurs permettant de recueillir desdonnées climatiques à partir de sources diverses etadaptées aux besoins des agriculteurs. Les données sonttraitées : 1) au niveau national où les prévisions généralessont faites par un panel multi-acteurs et 2) au niveau descommunautés locales où les prévisions générales sontadaptées au contexte local et les connaissancesautochtones sont intégrées. Ces données sont utiliséespour l’élaboration des prévisions bimensuelles enfournissant des informations de base pour dispenser des 3
  • 4. conseils fonctionnels aux agriculteurs. Des prévisionssaisonnières et des conseils relatifs au climat sont diffusésaux agriculteurs à travers la radio locale, les services devulgarisation et de des comités locaux de pré-alerte en vuede faciliter la prise de décision par les agriculteurs. Vu quela plupart des agriculteurs au sein de la zone du projetreconnaissent limportance de ces informationsclimatiques, environ 66% dentre ceux-ci ont manifesté lavolonté de payer pour bénéficier de ces servicesclimatiques. Les agriculteurs participant au projetdéclarent constamment des rendements plus élevés, et desrevenus dautant plus élevés (une augmentation de 10 à80% par rapport aux zones en dehors de la zone du projet),que ceux des paysans qui ne bénéficient pas des donnéesmétéorologiques locales adaptées. Cette approche pourraitrenforcer la capacité dadaptation des producteurs rurauxaux changements climatiques et à la variabilité.Mots clés: changement climatique, système dalerteprécoce, connaissances autochtones, agriculteurs, Benin. 4
  • 5. IntroductionThe Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC (2007)demonstrated conclusively that climate change continuesto pose serious threats to growth and sustainabledevelopment in Africa, hence impeding the achievementof the MDGs (UNDP, 2007). This threat particularly putsBenin on a delicate precipice because agriculture remainsthe basis of its economy. Although several studies havebeen conducted on the adaptive capacities of Beninfarmers and rural communities to climate change andvariability, a holistic approach which involves thecommunities themselves would be more sustainable.Hence the relevance of this approach which uses availableclimate information to anticipate and manage annualclimate-related risks (Tarhule 2005; Washington et al.2006). Climate information is usually available from twomain sources: meteorological seasonal climate forecasts(SCFs) and indigenous knowledge-based seasonalforecasts (IKFs) (Ziervogel, 2010). SCFs are generated inBenin by the national meteorological services usingmodels and empirical data. This specialized, scientificinstitution generates weather and climate related productswithin the guidelines set by the World MeteorologicalOrganization. Their work is supplemented by otherregional and international climate centers including theAfrican Centre of Meteorological Applications forDevelopment (ACMAD), the Centre Régional deFormation et d’Application en Agrométéorologie et 5
  • 6. Hydrologie Opérationelle (AGRHYMET). On the otherhand, IKFs are produced locally by people who live in thearea for which the prediction is made. They are oftenbased on generations of experience and include bothbiophysical and mystical indicators. This paper highlightsthe experience of Benin in providing farmers with climateinformation and related counsel by integrating seasonalclimate forecasts and indigenous knowledge-basedseasonal forecasts to reduce the vulnerability of theagricultural sector.Methodology Data collectionRainfall and phenological data are essential in theimplementation of an early warning and agro-meteorological information system. Therefore, rainfalldata was collected from 20 meteorological stations of thenational meteorological services located within sixdepartments of Benin. The data was supplemented byclimate advisories, weather prediction products made upby the African Centre for Meteorological Applications forDevelopment. In order to strengthen the early warningsystem, phenological data from 18 municipalities werecollected every ten days. And for each municipality, fivefarm observations were made per decade. 6
  • 7. Climate information system implementationThe first component of the agro-meteorologicalinformation production chain was the National Committeefor Early Warning and Agro-meteorological Information.The committee was made up of the following: Ministry ofAgriculture, Ministry of Environment, Universities,National Meteorological Service, and FarmersOrganizations. This committee was responsible for theproduction and validation of the agro-meteorologicalbulletin. With climate and phenological data collected, afirst draft of the bulletin was developed by the nationalmeteorological service experts. Then a workshop was heldby the national committee who gathered multidisciplinaryand complementary skills to improve and validate thecontents of the bulletin. The product derived from thisworkshop was a weather bulletin and general agricultureclimate-related advice that applied to farms throughout thecountry. The second component of the agro-meteorological information production chain was theLocal Committee for Early Warning and Agro-meteorological Information. This committee was made upof agricultural extension services, farmers, localauthorities and local radios. The work of this committeewas based on the weather bulletin developed by thenational committee. The national bulletin containedgeneral information that was not regionally targeted.Information was then localized and adapted to particular 7
  • 8. conditions of each region by the local stakeholders whocomprised the local committee. Integrating indigenous knowledgeSeveral natural indicators such as the moon andconstellation movements, tree species and birds werelisted by traditional leaders, farming communities withrich experience of several weather events or climate riskssince the 1950s. Cultural models used by local farmers inpredicting weather included various patterns of upstreamand downstream events during the seasons. Someexamples include the following: Constellation movements and moon predictions: According to the observationAccording to the observation of some group of mensurveyed in the study area, whenever clusters of stars(locally known as eza) appeared in the East during themonth of May, it was a sign that the rainy season wouldbe good. When the opposite occurred during this period,producers should expect that the production might not begood during the season. The people surveyed in rural Adjacommunity also mentioned that whenever there was aheavy rainfall within the period between 25th January and5th February it was an indication that the year would be anormal year. 8
  • 9. Use of plant species in predictionsAdja communities revealed that when the first rains fromFebruary to mid-March were ‘sweeping’ the flowers of theshrub species Cryptolepis sanguinolenta, it was a sign ofa good season. Farmers claimed that some tree speciesprovided a benchmark during the rainy season andespecially so during the second bimodal rainy seasonwhich is characteristic of central parts of Benin. Forexample, the appearance of red flowers of Erythrinasenegalensis in August or September was an indication ofan end of the season. Analysis in connection with theagricultural calendar showed that these indigenousknowledge-based predictions often coincided withscientific prediction. Use of bird species in prediction:According to farmers, the behavior of certain species ofbirds could aid in predicting a rainy season. Investigationsshowed that the bird called toucan appeared to be the mostcommon indicator. The communities hinted that wheneverthe toucans multiplied the frequency of their songsbetween February and March, it meant that the rainyseason was close. The communities mentioned that thissame bird’s behavior usually boosted the psychologicalmorale of producers as they prepared their farming plots –i.e. such farmers got more and more convinced that the 9
  • 10. rains would arrive within days. This indicator seemed tobe well known and understood by rural communitiesthroughout Benin. The bird species Bulbucus ibis was alsostated as a good indicator of on-coming weather events.The appearance of the ibis in villages in Benin indicatedthat the rainy season was over – such a presenceannounced the beginning of a dry season. At suchinstances, the producers always began the construction of‘fire fences’ to protect their plots from dry season fires. Customs and practices in the predictionUnlike the observation and use of natural indicators inweather prediction, the practice of divination and otherspiritual practices in predicting or inducing rain are theprerogative of traditional “rainmakers”. In Benin sometraditional leaders hold mystical powers that help alleviatethe problems caused by absence of rainfall or dry spellsoccurring during the rainy season. The deities that areoften talked about are “Hêviosso”, “Sakpata” and“Tohossou”. Societies in which such beliefs are practicedwere organized in a way that at the end of the rainy seasonand after harvesting, producers present gifts to traditionalleaders requesting them to prepare for a better futureseason. Ultimately, such indigenous knowledge aresometimes integrated in the analysis of scientific bulletinproduced by the national weather committee. Thisintegration is done at the local level by local committeesthat involve experienced producers. 10
  • 11. Information dissemination and feedbackData produced through these methods are used to devisepieces of advice which are disseminated by localcommittee’s members, the agricultural extension officersand local radio. In this manner, information feedbacksfrom producers are provided to the national committee forimprovements of future weather bulletins. This agro-meteorological information dissemination usually beganin early growing season or March, and ended in lateseason or November.Generated knowledgeRelevant knowledge was generated from theimplementation of the early warning and agro-meteorological information system. The first was relatedto the strategy of setting up and managing this kind ofinnovative system. It is important to point out thatoriginally the weather data provided by the NationalMeteorological Agency were used only for air navigationpurposes and were not usually disseminated. But theproject succeeded in exploiting some of the data foragriculture purposes. Thus, despite the fact that Benindoes not have the means of making detailed seasonalforecasts for different climate zones, this projectdemonstrated that it is possible to establish trends inclimate that may improve the counseling provided tofarmers on planting and harvesting dates. On the other 11
  • 12. hand, activities undertaken through this project indicatedthat indigenous knowledge on climate could also be usefulfor scientific forecasts.Impacts on food securityThe natural factor determining the evolution of foodinsecurity in Benin remains unquestionably climatevariability. Small farmers are trying to redefine the space-time organization of their agricultural work. Therefore anapproach for agricultural adaptation to climate change inBenin would be related to the adjustment of howproducers manage their farms regarding climate changeand weather events. The technical itineraries used hithertoin predicting weather in Benin, were established within acontext where climatic factors were not a major constraint.Today, however, climate change has become a keyvariable, and the use of an adapted crop managementsystem would be an approach second to none in Benin’scontinued agricultural development as the climatechanges. One solution to overcome this issue is to providetailor-made climate forecasts which could facilitate thecounseling services provided to farmers in order toempower them to better adapt to the present and futureeffects of climate change and climate variability. Suchcounsel should be related to agricultural calendars andprevailing producer practices. The decision to plant oreven harvest depends on climate risk factors faced by thefarmer. 12
  • 13. This is the core of this system that being implemented asdemonstrated in this project. Information provided by thesystem helps producers to minimize losses in the face ofunfavorable climate events. Results from this studyindicated that 92% of farmers who received this climate-related agricultural information were convinced of theirrelevance, and they planned their activities based suchdata. Moreover, 66% of these producers were willing topay to receive such agricultural information. It wasobserved that farmers using such information reportedhigher yields, and correspondingly higher incomes, thanthose producing crops without the benefit of locallytailored climate information. The impacts of this earlywarning system and agro-meteorological information onreducing the vulnerability of small producers and evenfood insecurity in Africa have also been demonstrated bysimilar studies conducted by the Institut de Recherchepour le Développement (IRD) in Senegal and Niger (IRD,2011). These studies revealed that adjusting croppingstrategies using forecasts and agro-meteorologicalinformation could allow up to 80% yield increases in areaswhere cash crops such as groundnuts were grown, as inthe Saloum Delta. In Niger similar climate prediction hadbeen used to assist farmers increase their revenues up to30%. This indicates that using agro-meteorologicalinformation to adjust the cropping and other technicalitineraries in anticipation of climate events could behelpful to farmers. 13
  • 14. ConclusionsPreliminary results from this study indicate thatintegrating climate prediction in the design of counselingservices provided to farmers would be useful in countriesheavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture. The experienceof the early warning and agro-meteorological informationsystem could be a means to foster the dynamics on thevalue of agro- meteorological information in theagricultural production system in Benin, especially withinthe context of climate change. The adoption of thisapproach has also facilitated multiinstitutionalcollaboration, the sharing of skills, and creation oflinkages to traditional practices, beliefs and knowledge forthe benefit of the producers.ReferencesIRD (2011), Prédire la pluie pour réduire l’insécuritéalimentaire, Actualité scientifique, n°372. 2 p.M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van derLinden and C.E. Hanson (eds). 2007. Contribution ofWorking Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of theIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, CambridgeUniversity Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and NewYork, NY, USA. 14
  • 15. Tarhule, A.A. 2005. Climate information fordevelopment: an integrated dissemination model.Presented at the 11th General Assembly of the Council forthe Development of Social Science Research in Africa, 6–10 December 2005, Maputo, Mozambique.UNDP (2007), Human Development Report, UNDP,399ppWashington, R.; Harrison, M.; Conway, D.; Black, E.;Challinor, A.; Grimes, D.; Jones, R.; Morse, A.; Kay, G.;Todd, M. 2006. African climate change: taking the shorterroute. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society,87(10): 1355.Ziervogel, G. and Opere, A. (editors). 2010. Integratingmeteorological and indigenous knowledge-based seasonalclimate forecasts in the agricultural sector. InternationalDevelopment Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada. ClimateChange Adaptation in Africa learning paper series. 15
  • 16. Article CitationThoto, F., & Hounkponou S. (2012). Meteorological andIndigenous Knowledge-Based Forecasting for Reducing PoorPopulations’ Vulnerability to Climate Change and Variability.In P. Sérémé & H. Roy-Macauley (Eds.), Empowering theRural Poor to Adapt to Climate Change and Variability in Westand Central Africa. Paper presented at the CORAF/WECARD3rd Agricultural Science Week and 10th General Assembly,Ndjamena, Chad, 2012 (pp. 96-101). Senegal:CORAF/WECARD. 16