Is information enough? User responses to seasonal climate forecasts in Southern Africa
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- CICERO Reports 
Since the mid-1980s, long-lead climate forecasts have been developed and used to predict the onset of El Niño events and their impact on climate variability. Advances in the observational and theoretical understanding of El Niño and the Southern Oscillation (ENSO) have contributed to improved seasonal forecasts, with lead times of up to one year. As the ability to forecast climate variability improves, the potential social and economic applications of forecasts have become an issue of great interest. There is widespread optimism that the availability and dissemination of climate forecasts can provide much-needed information that will inevitably reduce the losses and damages attributed to climate variability. However, this study indicates that it is not only the availability of information that matters, but also the end-users capacity to act upon it. This report discusses user responses to seasonal climate forecasts in southern Africa, with an emphasis on small-scale farmers in Namibia and Tanzania. The study examines if and how farmers received, used, and perceived the forecasts in the 1997/98 agricultural season. The report also includes a summary of a workshop on user responses to seasonal forecasts in southern Africa, organized as part of the larger project. The participants in this workshop discussed some of the bottlenecks and constraints in terms of both forecast dissemination and user responses in various branches of the agricultural sector. A comparison of case studies across southern Africa revealed that there were differences in both dissemination strategies and in the capacity to respond to extreme events. Nevertheless, it was clear that improvements in forecast dissemination coupled with improved capacity to respond to the forecasts could yield net benefits for agricultural production in southern Africa. Case studies in Namibia and Tanzania were undertaken to capture the extent to which seasonal forecasts reached “end users” in the agricultural sector. The responses indicate both the possibilities and limitations related to climate forecasts as a means of reducing rural vulnerability to climate variability. Interviews were also conducted with national and regional agricultural and food security institutions in Namibia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. Institutions included government agencies, farmer organizations, research institutions, and private companies. Participation in two of the three SARCOF meetings held during the 1997/98 season provided insight into forecast development and dissemination, as well as into the emerging dialog between forecasters and users. The surveys revealed two main trends. First, there is a need to expand dissemination. Second, there is a pressing need to improve capacity for using the forecasts. In terms of dissemination, the surveys showed that less than half of the small-scale farmers interviewed actually received the pre-season forecasts, and fewer heard the mid-season updates. Moreover, what forecasts were received were often confused with other reports stemming from the coincidental occurrence of a very strong El Niño phenomenon. One reason so few small-scale farmers received the forecasts is that they have not been directly targeted as end-users. While dissemination efforts have clearly been inadequate, they do not appear to be as consequential as problems related to the capacity of small-scale farmers to respond to the forecasts. Unless farmers have the ability to correctly interpret the forecasts, and the capacity to take action based upon the information, the forecasts will remain underutilized. Constraints to the capacity to respond to climate forecasts lie in economic and social structures, rather than uniquely in a lack of information. Access to credit, seeds, fertilizers, draft power, and markets shapes the ability of farmers to respond to climate information. In the wake of the 1997/98 El Niño event, there is a need to critically reflect upon the potential benefits of seasonal climate forecasts. Responses to present-day climate variability form the cornerstone for adapting to future climate changes. In anticipation of potential changes in the frequency and/or magnitude of extreme events associated with global climate change, there is clearly a need for improved seasonal forecasts and better information dissemination. Nevertheless, the results of this study caution against a misplaced emphasis on improving the accuracy of forecasts at the expense of increasing the flexibility of farmers to adapt. Instead, the provision of information must be tied to enhanced response or adaptation options. Climate forecasts have the potential to increase food security in southern Africa. However, to realize the full extent of potential benefits, response strategies should be strategically developed alongside dissemination strategies targeted at small-scale farmers. Moreover, this study points to a need to examine how economic changes taking place in southern Africa enhance or constrain this flexibility. Seasonal climate forecasts can serve as more than a tool for emergency management of food aid. Addressing the economic constraints to the use of seasonal climate forecasts could place farmers in a position where they could actually act upon the information. Information alone is not enough, but combined with increased attention to response strategies, seasonal climate forecasts can serve as a valuable tool for farmers in southern Africa.AcknowledgmentThe authors would like to acknowledge the support and contributions of the many people who assisted us in this project. We are grateful to Arne Dalfelt of the World Bank for helping us to make this project a reality, and for supporting CICERO’s longer-term research on climate change and variability in Africa. We would also like to thank Mike Harrison, Macol Stewart and the participants in the SARCOF meetings for encouraging and facilitating this research. For the field research in Namibia, we would like to express our thanks to Luis de Pisano, Peter Hutchinson, Kintinu Sageus, Gert van Eeden, Dave Cole, Mary Seely, Chris Morry, Franz Oberprieler, John le Roux, Paul Strydom, Barbara de Bruine, Gert Grobler, Ronnie Bornman, Cobus Franken, Pieter Hugo, and the others who took the time to share their views with us on seasonal climate forecasts and their potential use in Namibia. We would also like to thank Fiina Shimaneni, Otto Kamwi, and colleagues at the Multidisciplinary Research Center at the University of Namibia for their assistance with the field surveys. We are grateful to Sylvi Endresen for helping us to coordinate this field research, and to Jürgen Hoffman for his support, assistance, and enthusiasm for the project. The fieldwork in Tanzania would not have been possible without the assistance and cooperation of colleagues at Sokoine University, including Nganga Kihupi and Winifrida Rwamugira. We are also grateful to Bahari Mumali, James Ngana, Burhani Nyenzi, Mr. Kalinga, Juvenal R.L. Kisanga, S.A. Muro, and F.E. Mahua for their generous time. In Zimbabwe, we would like to thank Leonard Unganai, Brad Garanganga, Eliot Vhurumuku, C.H. Matarira, Stephen Crawford, Saskia van Osterhout, Marufu.C. Zinyowera, Sylvester Tsikisayi, Amos Makarau, Mr. Malusalila, Amus Chitambira, Micael Negusse, Roland Keth, and Veronica Mutikana for taking time to discuss the forecasts and their implications with us. We are grateful to the participants in the Dar es Salaam Workshop on User Responses to Seasonal Forecasts in Southern Africa, for sharing their insights and contributing to a productive exchange of research findings and ideas. In addition to the authors and collaborators mentioned above, participants include Anna Bartman, Roger Blench, Louise Bohn, Tharsis Herea, Amin Bakari Iddi, Maynard Lugenja, Jennifer Phillips, Anne Thomson, and Coleen Vogel. Finally, we would like to thank Lynn Nygård, Bård Romstad, and Tone Veiby for editorial assistance with this report.