4-step guide to how ICTs can help farmers adapt to climate change

A version of this post originally appeared on ICTworks. Reposted with permission.

The Climate Change Adaptation and ICT (CHAI) project, co-implemented by FHI 360, uses ICT tools to provide climate adaptation information to more than 100,000 farmers in local languages in three intervention districts in Uganda with the goal of increasing agricultural productivity in communities vulnerable to climate change.

This week CHAI won the UNFCCC 2015 Momentum for Change’s Lighthouse Activities Award for innovative and transformative solutions addressing climate change and wider economic, social and environmental challenges.

Studies conducted by the CHAI project showed that access to adaptation information improved by up to 48 percent in the intervention districts (Nakasongola, Sembabule and Soroti) compared to the control district (Rakai), while the effectiveness of adaptation actions that were based on information received through the project increased by up to 33 percent in the intervention areas compared to the control district.

Infographic Uganda farmers

The studies also showed that the use of timely and locally relevant adaptation information reduced crop loss and damage by 50 percent to 65 percent in the intervention districts compared to the control district.

Infographic Uganda farmers 2

Four key steps to help farmers adapt to climate change

While there have been many attempts to increase farmer resilience, many of those efforts were not successful. How did this project find such great success? Berhane Gebru, Director of Programs for TechLab at FHI 360, and principal investigator and technical lead for CHAI, used four simple but very effective strategies during the program:

  • Go hyper-local. Berhane and project staff provided seasonal weather forecasts and agricultural information localized to the sub-county level; weekly livestock and crop market information to help farmers decide what, when, where and how much to sell; guidance on low-cost rainwater harvesting techniques; information on mechanisms to cope with droughts and floods; and termite-control measures.
  • Use every communication channel. The project provided information through a mix of established and new ICT mediums, including interactive FM radio (broadcasts that allow farmers to ask questions or make comments through voice mail and text messaging, with responses later aired live during radio talk shows), text messaging, email and community loudspeakers.
  • Invest in existing systems. Agriculture extension agents and other existing service providers were incorporated from the start of the project, and each communication activity also directed farmers to existing national systems. The project also invested in improving institutional processes to accept and respond to greater interest and inquiries by farmers.
  • Adapt, adapt, adapt. All throughout the project, Berhane and project staff actively sought feedback from the users and adapted the program communication mediums and messaging to optimize its impact. They provided updated agricultural advisories twice a week in response to user needs. They engaged local chiefs, religious leaders and other authority figures who helped by sharing adaptation information through their own channels. This reinforced the credibility of the information and encouraged farmers to use it.

Success requires more than ICT

Before we all get too excited about the project results, we do have to be clear about the reality of ICTforAg programs. They can have transformative impact, but not as stand-alone programs. As Berhane says:

“The use of ICTs alone for the generation and dissemination of adaptation information cannot minimize the impacts of climate change and variability. The innovative value of this project lies in its holistic approach. Our project developed ICT tools and processes that link farmers to support agencies that have the resources to help them take the next step.”

Thanks to the support of the International Development Research Centre, Canada (IDRC), the CHAI project will continue through 2017 to conduct rigorous research on the longer-term benefits of ICT-mediated adaptation in improving the resilience of farming communities, and to determine the technical, financial and institutional requirements needed to roll out the system in other settings.

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