Q&A: ICTs, agrometeorology and farmers
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CTA. 2004. Q&A: ICTs, agrometeorology and farmers. ICT Update Issue 20. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
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Making agricultural meteorology more operational is not enough to help farmers. According to Professor Kees Stigter, the knowledge gap is very real and only strong policies can overcome it.
Professor Stigter what in your view have been the most significant contributions that ICTs have made to the study and practice of agrometeorology? In agrometeorology, as in any other environmental science, modern ICTs have contributed to new and better knowledge and applications. Examples can be found in weather, climate and yield forecasting , risk assessments, monitoring and early warning systems. Governments are now in a better position to warn farmers to enable them to prepare for calamities, and to reduce and mitigate the impacts of natural disasters on agricultural production to the best of their abilities. Better meteorological services are directly serving farmers in developed countries and, to a lesser but increasing extent, better off farmers in developing countries. What are in your view the most urgent agricultural problems facing farmers in ACP countries? The majority of poor and marginal farmers are confronted with a number of urgent problems. They have to farm under conditions of increasing climate variability and change, and degrading soils. This applies to the users of grasslands and forage crops for livestock in Inner Mongolia, where I am working right now, and to dryland and irrigated farming in central Sudan, where I worked for 15 years. It also applies to small rice farmers in Indonesia as well as to the millet growers in northern Nigeria, where I worked for ten years on intercropping and on agroforestry systems to protect crops from dry winds. Many of these farmers also face markets that are biased against them, and governments that are unwilling or unable to assist. And when they do receive assistance, the measures are often too limited in scope, or are incompatible with their actual needs. They are also usually devised from the top down, addressing the symptoms, rather than tackling actual problems from the bottom up. Do you believe that research in agrometeorology can help to overcome some of these problems? In my view, making agricultural meteorology more operational is not enough to help poor farmers. To provide effective agrometeorological services, we have to combine the adaptive strategies they have developed themselves using indigenous innovations and experience absorbed from elsewhere, with other sources of knowledge. These sources include contemporary scientific knowledge, as well as the understanding of socio-economic systems necessary to create appropriate policy environments. In the application of scientific knowledge, ICTs are among the most powerful supportive components. But agrometeorological services have to be communicated to farmers in a participatory approach. Can you give some examples of agrometeorological interventions in which ICTs and indigenous knowledge have been combined with some measure of success? I am afraid I have yet to see clear examples. When I was president of the Commission for Agricultural Meteorology (CAgM) of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) in the 1990s, we tried to collect examples world-wide, but found few successful cases involving poor or marginal farmers. To a certain extent, this may be due to the lack of documentation, limited access to the ´grey´ literature (such as unpublished theses), language barriers or other constraints. That is why we are now trying again to collect such information. In China, for example, we are currently setting up a project in which we will try to identify examples of successful agrometeorological services. This may teach us about ICT components as well. Given the rapid technological advances in agrometeorology, is there a widening knowledge gap between providers and end users? This knowledge gap is very real and only strong policies towards agrometeorological services can overcome it. I strongly believe that providing such training for the staff of intermediary organizations - including local weather services and extension services - can help to bridge the gap. How have ICTs contributed to your own work? I am an experimental physicist by training, and all physics-related ICTs have always fascinated me. In our African research projects we have made ample use of ICTs in order to better understand traditional technologies and other forms of local knowledge. Yet, I believe that we have to be vigilant that technology never becomes a goal in itself. ICTs can be extremely useful tools and we must make maximum use of them, but when it comes to the provision of agricultural services to poor and marginal producers, indigenous technologies and local innovations must be our starting point because they represent the existing limitations best. mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org Kees Stigter is an agrometeorologist, specialised in dryland agrometeorology; agroforestry against desertification, and traditional techniques of microclimate improvement, particularly in Africa and Asia. He was president of the Commission for Agricultural Meteorology (CAgM) of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), is founding president of the a target=_new href="http://www.agrometeorology.org International Society for Agricultural Meteorology (INSAM), visiting professor at universities in Africa and Asia, and guest scientist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Professor Stigter (email: mailto:email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org) encourages readers of ICT Update to send him examples of applications of ICTs in agrometeorology in ACP countries.
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