How (and whether) to Disseminate Climate Forecasts

One topic that I’ve been interested in for a while now, but haven’t yet had the chance to explore in any depth is the way in which we disseminate drought forecasts. In this blog post I’d like to look a little further into how we disseminate, what we disseminate, and whether it makes a difference. The short version is this: we have thought quite a bit about what we provide, but surprisingly little about whether it is effective (cost or otherwise).

Numerous studies have explored the way in which we provide information (see here and edited collections here and here). They have made some real advances in shedding some light on how farmers’ make use of climate forecasts, as well as the estimated impact (i.e. whether farmers changed their responses in the context of a workshop participation).

As it turns out, farmers’ are quite capable of understanding and acting on probabilistic information. For forecasters, this is good news. One question that I would be interested in exploring further is whether the workshops required to train farmers to use forecasts is cost effective. This question relates both to the initial cost, and to the question of information retention. When testing principles in the context of daylong participatory workshops, we are unable to address issues such as usage retention (particularly following forecasts that do not match the eventual seasonal totals).

A related question, raised by a colleague of mine here at IFPRI, is whether we should really be providing the information to individual farmers or if it is more effective to provide the information to regional met agencies. Again, the question is not whether farmers are capable of using the forecasts, but rather whether providing them directly is cost effective in the long run.

The most pressing question, however, is in many ways the most obvious: do climate forecasts improve yields? A rigorous study (read randomized control) of the real-world implications of climate yields is badly needed as a means of addressing whether climate forecasts are effective. Although I understand the desire to provide a high quality product (accurate forecast) in a reliable manner, it is past time that we begin discussing the hard evidence of cost effectiveness.

Much time has been dedicated to studying climate forecasts, but surprisingly little has been invested in understanding what role climate forecasts are likely to play in improving livelihoods. We can’t afford to silo these questions any longer.

One thought on “How (and whether) to Disseminate Climate Forecasts

  1. Alexa KJ

    Weston – ended up hear after seeing you on Twitter via Mo Raymo’s page I think (?) or something. Anyways, re: “A rigorous study (read randomized control) of the real-world implications of climate yields is badly needed as a means of addressing whether climate forecasts are effective.” So this has actually been done by researchers from ICRISAT that CCAFS funds…We’ve had trouble getting a peer reviewed studied out of them though, but there are a number of project reports/blogs that I’ll hunt down.

    However – it’s VERY difficult to do proper RCTs with climate information because it’s notoriously “leaky” – i.e., people being people, they talk to one another and information spreads, hence very difficult to have a “control.” In one approach to tackling this, some colleagues at UK Reading (esp Roger Stern) have used a “placebo” workshop to approximate “control” villages. I’m working on a project now that is designing M&E protocols for a climate information services communication program in West Africa (uses workshops on the district level to communicate forecasts with farmers), so would be interested in talking about this more. CCAFS/IRI have done a lot of work on whether it is cost effective to communicate climate information to farmers individually, whether they can benefit from it, and whether it makes more sense to communicate this information on the institutional level. The answer appears to be, yes, all of the above! Communication can be achieved on multiple levels at minimal cost if you use the right leverage points/existing networks such as agricultural extension. Anyways, I do a lot of work on this stuff/am still learning a ton about it so we should chat!

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