For farmers in Indonesia, climate change is more than scientific models and emissions scenarios; it is a harsh reality reflected in the day-to-day struggle to sustain their livelihood. Farmers are intimately familiar with the traditional ebb and flow of the weather, and the increasing chasm between how things used to be and how things are today.
Ramlah, a rice farmer from Southeast Sulawesi, recalls an extended dry season in 2015: “Almost all my crops failed before harvest,” she says. “Not only that, but then in December, June, and July, after we already planted the rice paddy, we got floods. We must wait until the flooding is over to replant our crops.”
The droughts and floods impacting Ramlah’s community are no longer occasional occurrences, but instead represent progressively erratic weather. Arief, a neighboring farmer, readily agrees with Ramlah’s assessment, adding that the flooding is more unpredictable with each passing season, and that he must often replant his crops two or three times in the wake of continued flooding. And when crops fail, the costs are real: loans go into default, school fees go unpaid, and homes fall into disrepair.
In an era of increasing meteorological and hydrological uncertainty, climate and weather information systems play an important role in helping farmers such as Ramlah and Arief adapt to climate shifts and extreme weather events. In this regard, improving access to and expanding the application of climate and weather information is a critical component of USAID’s Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience (APIK) Project. The $19.4 million APIK Project (2015-2020) supports the Government of Indonesia to strengthen climate and disaster resilience, working in an integrated manner from the national level down to the regional and community levels.
To help frame the institutional roles and actions that transform data into decisions, a comprehensive Climate and Weather Information Systems Assessment was organized around the concept of the climate and weather information value chain. One of the principal findings was that existing climate and weather products struggled to reach the “last mile,” often failing to make it to the communities and households where they were most needed.
In response to this challenge, APIK began working with Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) to redesign and ramp up Climate Field Schools. Each Climate Field School lasts for three months and provides in-depth training and skills development to help farmers bolster the resilience of their livelihood. Participants are exposed to every step of the climate and weather information value chain, from the accurate measurement of rainfall to the application of different BMKG forecast products, all to improve crop yield.
The Climate Field School program is wholly owned by BMKG, meaning that APIK-facilitated improvements to content and delivery will continue to inform the Agency’s approach long after the project has closed. Importantly, this approach extends well beyond the classroom as participants put their newfound knowledge into practice through field-based pilot activities. During a recent APIK-supported Climate Field School in Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi, for example, 30 farmers worked together to identify the seed types that were best suited to their local climate while also collecting hydro-meteorological data to mitigate the potentially devastating impacts of diseases such as rice blast fungus (Magnaporthe grisea).
Ramlah was one of 30 farmers in the Kendari Field School. She says that “farmers are now better able to adapt to climate change” because of the Field School. She now feels capable of helping her husband decide on the most effective treatment for their rice field. “We, the women, are the ones who actively monitor the rice field,” she says. “After participating in the Climate Field School, I know and understand better the information from the BMKG. Now I know what to do with our rice fields and when we should open or close the irrigation once we receive information on rainfall from the BMKG.”
Looking ahead to the third year of APIK, the project will continue to help BMKG refine and expand the Climate Field School model. A new Field School recently started in East Java Province, with 25 sugarcane farmers learning to observe and record plant growth, record humidity and rainfall, and integrate cultivation techniques with climate and weather information. Through such grounded, field-based learning, these sugarcane farmers and their communities are becoming better equipped to adapt to a “new normal,” transforming climate risk into climate resilience.
Climatelinks is a global knowledge portal for USAID staff, implementing partners, and the broader community working at the intersection of climate change and international development. The portal curates and archives technical guidance and knowledge related to USAID’s work to help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.