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Is information enough?: user responses to seasonal climate forecasts in Southern Africa

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 results of the 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.

The surveys revealed two main trends.

  • there is a need to expand dissemination: 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.
  • there is a pressing need to improve capacity for using 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.

[adapted from author]