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The InfoClim project, which distributes climate data to local communities, has helped Senegalese farmers adapt to climate change. SciDev.Net investigates.

Smallholder farmers have years of experience in assessing how climatic conditions, particularly rainfall, affect their crops. But as the climate changes, that knowledge — often gathered over a lifetime — may no longer be valid.

As a result, vulnerable farmers need help to adapt or fine-tune their practices. But as climate monitoring and research become more sophisticated, the gap between the technology and farming communities is getting wider.

A project in Senegal is now helping to bridge that gap.

The InfoClim project collects climate information and shares it with vulnerable populations, particularly farmers, to help them adjust their sowing, cultivation and other dates to suit the current climate.

The project's advisors begin by analysing data from the Centre for Ecological Monitoring (CSE) in Dakar and its partners to assess the probability of climatic events.

These partners include Senegal's National Meteorological Agency, which collects seasonal forecasts, and the Senegalese Agricultural Research Institute (ISRA), which contributes information on adapted crops. The Laboratory for Atmospheric Physics at the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar provides local climate models and scenarios.

Sharing knowledge

The scientific data are then shared with communities through four well-equipped regional 'observatories'. Local people trained by the project use community radio stations and meetings to pass the climate information to farmers.

Innocent Butare of the Senegal office of Canada's International Development Research Centre, which funded the InfoClim project, said the pilot project was intended to understand how to disseminate scientific information on adaptation to climate change to rural communities and local decision-makers.

The project provides farmers and local communities with climate data and soil statistics, and helps them share their knowledge to improve planting practices and ensure better yields.

Members of community-based organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and local decision-makers have learnt how to use agro-meteorological data to assess different options for adapting to climate change.

These include changing planting dates, using drought-resistant seeds, diversifying crops and planting perennial crops, improving water and soil management, fighting soil erosion, developing agro-forestry, integrating crops, livestock and trees, and finding alternative sources of income.

The success of the project has depended on building reliable networks between researchers and rural communities to share information on climate change.

"The project allowed the sharing of views on climate change and [highlighted] the importance of access to the information as a means of strengthening the capacity of rural communities to adapt to this phenomenon," said Butare.

"We also involved people from the local administration, local political decision-makers, community-based organisations and NGO representatives," said Butare. "Those forums are still working after the end of the project."

Local planning

The three-year research project, which started in 2008, was due to end in December 2010 but was extended by six months, spreading across four communities: Fandène, Notto Diobass, Taiba Ndiaye and Thiès. Other regions of Senegal are now asking for similar projects to help them.

Butare added that the project, funded to the tune of more than US$443,000, is a good example of how local decision-makers can use scientific information to integrate climate-change concerns into local development plans.

Amadou Sall, project leader of InfoClim, told SciDev.Net that the project had showed that adaptation at the local level is a condition of success for a national policy of adaptation to climate change.

Ibrahima Thiao, programme coordinator at the Federation of Non-Governmental Organisations of Senegal, said that InfoClim is one of the few innovative projects that provides opportunities for farmers, technicians and scientists to discuss common issues within a well-defined environment.

"Apart from the know-how, which the project inculcated in the partners, it scores a major point in securing the commitment of scientists and technicians to provide answers to farmers whenever they have questions about climate change as it relates to their work.

"It built the confidence of farmers by enhancing their knowledge and equipped them with the skills to be able to translate scientific and technical information into simple and understandable messages. Farmers want accurate information about the climate events that affect their crops," said Thiao.