Tool helps farmers anticipate their future climate

'Time travel' could help farmers better prepare for climate change Copyright: Flickr/CIMMYT

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[DURBAN] Marginalised farmers in the developing world may soon be able to ‘see’ into the future through a tool that will help them adapt to climate change by simulating how their crop production will be affected 20 years from now.

The open access tool, called ‘climate analogues’, was presented on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 17) in Durban, South Africa, on Saturday (3 December).

The analogues are sites with similar climates or other factors, such as crops, soils or socio-economic characteristics. The tool locates sites where the climate today is similar to that predicted for another location in the future, enabling farmers and policymakers to determine how to adapt to such climates in the future.

Examples include maize farmers in Mexico, who could look at farming practices in Argentina, China and South Africa, where climatic conditions are very close to those predicted for Mexico in 20 years or so.

"It is very abstract when people talk about a world in 2050 without actually being able see what it is," Andy Jarvis, scientist and programme leader at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture

(CIAT) told SciDev.Net. "So the idea behind this kind of tool is to use all of the variability and diversity of climate we have today as a means of finding people’s futures.

"We will take farmers to a site that is similar to their future and [help them] understand what they need to do to ensure that their production stays the same."

Jarvis added the tools would mainly be used by development agencies to identify such sites, and help them guide their actions in the future, but also provide farmers with practical experience of different climates.

"We want this to be used in Latin America, Asia and Africa, in developing countries and if it is used in others then fine but our target is developing countries," said Jarvis.

"Farmers are excellent at sharing knowledge with neighbours and within their communities. That is responsible for huge development gains and agriculture is founded on farmer knowledge but the problem is this stops at the community level. This tool is about bridging that knowledge gap [between researchers and farmers]."

Tekalign Mamo, Ethiopian agriculture minister said the tool could help his government tailor its extension services to the needs of farmers.

"We are already facing challenges of climate change with rains not falling at the appropriate time and affecting some of the technologies we are implementing," said Mamo.

The tool was developed by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research’s (CGIAR) research programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

It was designed by a team of five scientists funded with US$100,000 from the Colombian government and will be field tested with farmers in Ghana, Nepal, and Tanzania, in 2012.

A report, ‘Climate Analogues: Finding Tomorrow’s Agriculture Today’, will be released today.

Link to full report