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Climate dialogue with farmers in Africa

By Raymond Erick ZvavanyangeRecently, I attended a roving seminar hosted by the University Of Zimbabwe Department Of Physics in association with Agromet Vision of the Netherlands from 19-21 March, 2013. The speaker was Professor C. Kees Stigter of the International Association of Agricultural Meteorology and Agromet Vision of The Netherlands.Previous seminars were held under the title "Operational Agrometeorology: Reaching Farmers in A Changing Climate. This year is the fourth in the series and the title was "What Climate Change Means For Farmers in Africa: Facts, Consequences and Possible Approaches Towards Adaptation". There were about twenty members of equal representation by gender from public, private, and civic sectors.Objectives of the seminar [according to organisers]:
  • To provide scientists, support staff in research institutions, extension services and non-governmental organizations and practising agriculturalists with experience and understanding of operational agrometeorology and -climatology
  • How they can be used or should be better used under the specific socio-economic conditions of different farming systems and different income groups to address the livelihood crises of farmers in a changing climate.
The summarised points from the lecture slides were:
  • The difference between climate variability and change. For example, in a scientific article published by the African Crop Science Journal Mugandani et al. (2012) , Zimbabwe’s agro ecological zones have been re-classified in order to conform with climate variability and change.
  • The importance of agro forestry interventions both to livestock and soil fertility was underscored during the lectures. The major challenge highlighted was the damage to fences which surround the project sites with selected species for benefit of other parts of Zimbabwe. This is compromising efforts to assist local communities.
  • Farmers have a lot of education though it also helps for farmers to get a formal education. The key word when attempting to diagnose farmer’s problems is "dialogue". There is no one source that gives farmers all the knowledge they need.
  • The importance of response farming. Climate change brings complications to organised response farming but farmers and farming system differentiation is the real issue in agro meteorological services under conditions of a changing climate.
  • The challenges with climate downscaling such as the increasing uncertainty when one starts downscaling.
  • The ability to foresee things of interest to African smallholder farmers.
  • A farmer needs advice and dialogue not information. He needs "advisories" and "services". Information alone does not help the farmer if they can’t use it!
Why I enjoyed the lectures?
  • The recognition that the speaker has a profound interest in developing nations including Africa to assist local communities in solving climatic problems.
  • The remarkable "teaching instinct" of the speaker to catch the attention of participants throughout the lectures.
  • Intermezzo’s which gave evidence where practical work was done and the results thereof.
  • "If you improve operational science, you improve science".