Journal Article

Bridging the gap between climate science and farmers in Colombia

Agriculture is highly sensitive to variations in both weather and climate. Farmers face uncertainty in the weather patterns over the short term, and climate over the longer term. The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has promoted a system of Local Technical Agro-Climatic Committees (LTACs)4 in two Colombian regions to explore means of creating dialogue between researchers and farmers that would provide farmers with options in the face of both short- and longer-term variations in climate. The article uses a case study approach to describe how the original LTACs were established, the benefits obtained from the LTAC system, and the expansion of the system to areas outside Colombia.

The basic premise behind the LTAC approach is: If farmers and the local rural community at large can access and understand weather and climate forecasts and the responses of their crop production, processing, and marketing options under local conditions, they can make better decisions on how to manage their farms and businesses.

There are six basic components that are required to implement the LTAC approach to bridging the gap between climate science and farmers: (i) Establishment of the LTAC with alignment of local parties interested in managing variation in the climate and definition of their roles; (ii) local climate and monthly climate forecast; (iii) crop modeling and understanding of climate variation on crop production, processing and marketing and the impact this will have on management; (iv) dialogue between scientists, experts, and farmers; (v) dissemination and socialization of the dialogue; and (vi) local capacity building, which cuts across all the other five components.

The regular monthly meetings of the LTACs are the focal point of the overall process, bringing together information from various sources, organizing the ideas and thoughts, and then disseminating the information. A feature of the committees was their diversity. The committees required specific inputs, particularly on climate and the crop response before each meeting. Research organizations provided climate forecasts and crop response data. The forecasts proved closer to reality than long term means and the crops models that were used to predict crop response to changes in management and climate variation were relatively simple and unsophisticated. The committees gained confidence in these prognoses, which then formed the basis for dialogue on how best to manage climate variation. The production-side participants appreciated the opportunity to present their own points of view and the move from top-down recommendations, coming from the researchers and extension agents, towards a menu of options which they discussed. At the same time, it was evident in the early meetings that many of the participants came ill-prepared to grasp concepts related to managing climatic variation, thus highlighting the need for capacity building within the LTACs themselves.

LTACs actively promulgated their findings through bulletins, social networks, extension services, farmers’ organizations radio, TV, and the press. In the dry El Niño year of 2015, many farmers used the information generated by the LTACs to better manage their crops, increasing yields, and reducing losses.

More LTACs are now being established in Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. These countries have understood the value of creating mechanisms through which researches and farmers can exchange ideas, with the farmers choosing options to improve their management based on better weather and climate forecasts and an understanding of how the weather and climate affects their crops.