Weather services: Boosting rural resilience with climate risk management

In Rwanda, training farmers to use climate information services is helping to spread best farming practices, while enhancing farmers’ capacity to plan for future climate shocks.

Extension workers have reached 75,000 Rwandan farmers with training in the use of climate information services © Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources/A Nyandwi

Without access to accurate and up-to-date weather data, ACP smallholders have traditionally relied on indigenous knowledge to inform their decisions, but such predictions are becoming increasingly difficult. To foster greater climate resilience among farming communities, in 2016 the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) launched the 4-year Rwanda Climate Services for Agriculture (RCSA) programme. Supported by USAID, RCSA aims to improve the supply, communication and use of climate-related services across Rwanda.

RCSA is building on an existing initiative through which Rwanda’s National Meteorological Agency combines data from local, ground-based weather stations from across the country, with rainfall and temperature satellite data. The satellite data, which extends 30-50 years into the past, also provides a historical source of information that allows stakeholders to better understand long-term climate trends. This information is then compiled into ‘Maproom’ – a freely accessible database of climate data, providing information on trends in temperature and rainfall across time, and at national, regional and district scales.

To improve the dissemination of climate information, and enhance farmers’ ability to utilise the data themselves, RCSA has adopted the Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture (PICSA) approach that focuses on supporting small-scale farmers in their planning and decision-making. PICSA begins with an initial workshop, where farmers evaluate their current farming strategies with reference to the risks identified using Maproom data. Trainers and extension staff then work with farmers to choose the crop and livestock options best suited to the individual’s circumstances. Just before the growing season starts, trainers and extension staff use a seasonal forecast to update the risks identified during the first evaluation, and guide farmers to decide on any adjustments for the coming season.

Farmers’ participation in PICSA helps to identify and support differing needs across Rwanda’s diverse agro-ecology. But the approach has also proven effective at scale, with an estimated 75,000 farmers across the country having received training in PICSA, as of April 2018. The project has also developed a network of trained farmers who are able to pass on their knowledge in the use of climate information to other farmers within their local community.

A recent project assessment revealed that the vast majority of farmers that have received PICSA training found it useful – with seasonal forecasts considered the most useful element of the training, and 93% of respondents having made changes to their farming operations. Anathase Mudenge, a farmer based in Bugesera District, dedicated a small portion of his farm to methods learned through PICSA training – including planting based on weather forecasting and the use of certified seeds – and witnessed a three-fold yield increase. “I now adhere to the planting time once I get the seasonal forecast, and I always look for improved seeds,” Mudenge explains.

In recognition of its accomplishments, RCSA was awarded the first Climate Smart Agriculture Project of the Year Award, at the recent Africa Climate Smart Agriculture Summit in Kenya. Reflecting on the award, Jim Hansen, leader of the CCAFS Climate Services and Safety Nets Flagship Program said, “Innovative solutions such as…PICSA have made it possible to make things previously only demonstrated at pilot scale work for farmers on a national scale.”

Sam Price

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.