How do you plan as a farmer, when rainfall patterns you’ve relied on for generations are increasingly unpredictable? That’s what Noor Jelle, a husband and father in Garissa County in northeast Kenya, increasingly asked.
Traditionally a pastoralist, in the face of unpredictable weather patterns and the loss of their herds of livestock, Noor and his wife, Ebla Ali, have adopted an agro-pastoralist livelihood, seeking to feed their family and earn what income they can by raising small livestock and planting primarily maize. Yet even these livelihoods remain tenuous in the face of climate change.
As we confront the tough work that remains after COP20 in Lima, Peru, on the road to Paris at COP21, the needs of people like Noor and Ebla must drive the agenda. Climate change – increasingly variable rainfall patterns and temperature extremes – is one of the most urgent challenges facing many of the world’s poorest people, especially smallscale food producers. We cannot fail the people least responsible for causing climate change and most vulnerable to its impacts.
Enabling these populations to manage and adapt to climate impacts requires that we put decision-making power in their hands – another of the six critical issues flagged in the paper co-authored by CARE International, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), including by enabling their access to climate information. CARE is supporting communities in East and West Africa to use Participatory Scenario Planning (PSP) to meet the challenges of climate change.
Getting climate information to smallscale food producers isn’t just a matter of sharing predicted amounts of rain and levels of temperature; information for these farmers needs to be actionable. As Noor shared with CARE, “When we receive temperature and rain information in degrees and millimetres, for most of us it makes no sense as we don’t really know what it means. It would be better if the information was more focused on letting the community know what we could grow, when.”
PSP is an approach that brings together meteorologists, community members, local government and local NGOs to discuss and interpret seasonal forecasts from scientific and local sources. This locally-relevant climate information is used to develop climate resilient plans and advisories for livelihoods, food and nutrition security, disaster management, and sector services. The advisories are then shared through locally accessible means like radio and religious gatherings.
Bringing these stakeholders together builds the capacity of all of them to engage in shared planning processes, to voice and negotiate priorities, and to understand and respond to forecasts. It’s a practical way of putting decision-making power in the hands of farmers.
Noor explains further: “We received information on rainfall and temperature; additional advice on what to plant, when; where to get inputs and technical support; information on storage; and even marketing, in case the harvest was really good.” And it’s made a difference; not just for Noor and his family, but for others in their community. Noor’s wife, Ebla Ali, shared, “We are no longer living from hand to mouth, our diet is now varied, we are not struggling as much to educate our children and we are even discovering new markets for what we grow…. We are no longer dependent on relief food and we have been sharing whatever reaches us, with the more needy families.”
Putting decision-making power in the hands of farmers like Noor and Ebla empowers them to access the resources and information they need to manage their livelihoods and their futures in the face of increasing change. Next year’s negotiations and the agreement at COP21 must prioritize the needs and rights of smallscale food producers like Noor and Ebla. Countries must show leadership to address – and redress – the incredible injustice of climate change.