Coping with weather uncertainties through agro-meteorological advisories

Real-time weather information and crop advisory services prepare farmers for responding to weather uncertainties in Maharashtra

BACKGROUND

Farmers of Sangamner and Akole blocks of Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra are highly dependent on seasonal rainfall. This reliance increases during extreme events such as drought, storms, cold and heat waves, affecting agricultural production and farmers’ livelihood.

Climatic parameters play a vital role in influencing crop growth and yield as decisions related to sowing and irrigation scheduling are based on these, as is the incidence of pests and diseases. Advanced weather information on likely occurrence of these events can help farmers mitigate the exigencies and place contingency measures in place to avert the losses. These also assist farmers in the decision-making process regarding crop planning and standing crop management.

The use of mobile SMS technology to provide advanced weather information coupled with agro-advisories to the farmers can help in building their capacity to cope with climate-induced stresses during adverse meteorological events.

This agro-meteorological advisory initiative, which was a part of a comprehensive large-scale pilot project on Climate Change Adaptation (CCA), was implemented by WOTR between 2009 and 2015. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the NABARD were the major contributors of the project. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA ), and Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth (MPKV) were the key technology and knowledge partners in this initiative.

STAKEHOLDERS

Partners played well-defined roles which were as follows:

IMD: Provision of a 3-day weather forecast for the region based on the local weather data received from the Automated Weather Stations;

MPKV, CRIDA and WOTR: Development of agro-advisories based on weather forecasts and crop calendars; and,

Farmers: Data interpretation, usage and subsequent
feedback.

APPROACH AND METHODOLOGY

The Agro-SMS services were provided to 24 villages, 16 in
Sangamner and eight in Akole blocks. For this the following
three main steps were taken:

(i) Gathering data and its interpretation:

This included- – Installation of Automated Weather Stations (AWS) in
the villages; – Sending the data directly to the IMD; – Development of 3-day weather forecast based on the data; and, – Training of villagers to read the meteorological data.

(ii) Capturing data through Automated Weather Station:

WOTR installed 40 AWS in command areas of Sangamner and Akole blocks, forming a dense network grid ranging from 3-5 km. Of these, 27 stations were directly linked to WOTR ’s servers which sent processed data directly to IMD on an hourly basis. IMD used to supply daily weather forecast to WOTR. Information regarding unexpected weather events such as unseasonal rain, frost or temperature spikes was conveyed well in advance directly to the villages either through word-of-mouth, SMS or phone calls to key informants in the villages. The weather information was displayed daily on the blackboards on prime locations in the villages with the help of village youth trained to read the weather data. This helped in informing farmers on actual local weather conditions, alerting them to problems likely to arise for their farms and livestock. The advantage of having a local AWS was that it is able to more accurately warn about short-term extreme events which are nearly impossible to forecast in long-term or on an aggregate basis.

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(iii) Crafting of advisories

On the basis of weather forecast provided by IMD and the previous week’s actual weather conditions received from the AWS, the agro-advisories were prepared twice a week. Agro-advisories included information on farmers’ crop stage, present weather condition and forecast, irrigation management, pest and disease management, nutrient management and cultural practices. This information was then conveyed in the local language in a way that is easy to understand and interpret.

(iv) Dissemination of agro-advisories

This process started with the compilation of data that included the name, mobile number and the crops to be sown in the next season. Initially, the information was manually typed and sent to individual farmers, which was a time-consuming affair. Subsequently, software to disseminate agro-advisories was developed by WOTR.

Challenges faced by the project:

a) Multi-stakeholder partnerships are essential to developing crop advisories based on the real-time meteorological data as a single agency does not have all the competencies.

b) The meteorological equipment must be calibrated to acceptable standards and maintained regularly to prevent failure, a challenge particularly severe in
remote rural areas where connectivity is a problem and local conditions can disrupt the reliable transmission of data.

c) Appropriate means of communication must be developed for farmer conviction, or else the advisory will either not be understood and used.

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Story submitted by: Prithviraj Gaikwad, Nitin Kumbhar, Suchita Awasthi
Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR)

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