When Weather Talks
Lilawati could not believe her eyes. The blazing sun was now just a shadow even as thick dark clouds raced across the sky. And within minutes it seemed as if the sky opened up. The rain came in thick and strong, even as the winds howled and lightning played hide and seek in the darkness overhead. She ran to her fields where her paddy fields had stood tall and heavy with grain just moments ago. Now weathered and beaten, they struggled to hold themselves against this untimely onslaught, bravely trying to fight a losing battle. There was absolutely nothing she could do. If only she had gathered her crop earlier, if only she had an inkling of the coming storm, if only…
There are many like Lilawati, small and marginal farmers who live around the Gandak river, from neighbouring countries Nepal and India. They till their small piece of land for survival but are often caught unaware and unprepared when hit by such unforeseen weather vagaries in this era of climate change. When all they need to fight this is some timely information on the weather and how it would affect their crops.
To address this, a mechanism is needed to integrate weather forecast and climatic and agro-meteorological information that prepares an agro advisory customised for the farmer himself. GEAG, with the support of Lutheran World Relief (LWR), is doing just that in collaboration under the ‘Congregational Transboundary Flood Resilience Project’.
In this, we have established 1 Automatic Weather Station (AWS) with conventional forecasting system and weather research forecast (WRF) model for assimilation and forecasting system. These systems record essential weather parameters such as temperature, relative humidity, cloud and wind direction/speed and rainfall. But, the final local weather forecast for the surface weather parameter is achieved by using information from this weather model and prevailing synoptic situation around the location of interest. Then, on the basis of this weather forecast, a crop advisory is obtained from the Agriculture University and augmented by an in-house agriculture expert. This final localised outcome is then disseminated once in five days, through mobile phone text messages to farmers and field staff. The designated field staff further publicises them by writing them on a display board placed at the Village Resource Centre and Farmer Field Schools (FFS). This makes it easier and convenient for the whole village to access this important information and use it as and when needed, for their benefit.
These advisories are location-specific (village cluster level) and in the local language, Hindi. They describe the prevailing weather and suggest appropriate measures to minimize losses, optimize input through irrigation, fertilizer, pesticides, etc. Not only do they serve as an early warning system but also alert local communities on the implications of the expected weather events on their farming choices.
To keep a track on the usefulness and accuracy of these advisories, feedback collected from the farmers on a regular basis is collated and recorded every month. Project Officers and field functionaries of GEAG (India)and SAHAMATI (Nepal), regularly ensure direct interactions with farmers from both sides of the border.
There are twenty-five villages served in India and ten in Nepal at the Indo-Nepal border including both sides in Kushinagar, Maharajganj and West Champaran (India) and Nawalparasi (Nepal) districts. There is already a subscription of 502 farmers for these advisories, of which 46.21 percent are female farmers in these intervention districts. The most significant reason for use of these forecasts, as per the community, is cost savings. More than 80 percent are happy with the accuracy of the forecast, and there is no transmission or reliability problems that seriously undermine its access and use. Most said that the importance of weather information is more than 75 percent for their regular agricultural practices, Farmers explain that the advisory is most useful in scheduling their irrigation, and that is what 80 percent of them use it for.
Not surprisingly, there appears to be a growing demand to use these services, with many farmers expressing an interest and willingness to adapt it. And why not?
The sourcing of information here is at micro level, hence forecast accuracy is much higher in comparison to other such projections. Further, a span of five days is small, which again enhances quality and accuracy of information. Forecasts obtained through other means such as television, newspaper or radios provide limited information, usually related to only rainfall and temperature.
The benefits too are piling up for these farmers.
These customised agro advisories help them use this information in making crucial decisions in the course of their everyday agricultural activities. They are better prepared; thanks to weather alerts received in advance, and can thus minimize their risks and losses. They adjust their sowing/transplanting time to cope with a variable monsoon, synchronizing it with the reliable onset of rain. A farmer will naturally save him/herself the energy and money when s/he avoids unnecessary irrigation prior to a heavy rain forecast. Fertilizer application too is efficient when timed to maximize effects on crop growth and yield. These messages thus help them in smart decision making in all their agricultural activities which in turn translates into saving input cost for the farmers. For instance, now farmers avoid usage of fertilizer prior to heavy rainfall to mitigate fertility loss through soil erosion, or just before a windstorm to avoid it simply blowing away.
And these weather agro advisories are disseminated not just through SMS, but other convenient means within the community too. The Village Disaster Management Committee members announce these through mikes, write them on prominently displayed boards across the village, spread them through WhatsApp messages, and also through chain dissemination method, which basically ensures that everyone direct receiver of the message sends it to 5 other people he is in contact with. The crux is to share these advisories with as many framers, as quickly as possible, in the most efficient manner available.
And for farmers like Lilawati, this is indeed an added blessing. She no longer watches every dark cloud desperately. She, like many of her neighbours, has turned from a mere sceptic to an ardent weather agro advisory enthusiast. A keen follower of these advisories, she ensures all her crop is home safe, harvested in time and stored safely before any sudden downpour spoils her produce once again.