In a crowded banquet hall in Niamey, a dozen people gather around a large piece of paper, chatting excitedly in Hausa and French. They are a diverse group - farmers from hours outside the capital, radio broadcasters, extension agents, meteorologists, government officials and a smattering of NGO workers. This is the first time they’ve met. On the paper is a map of how they’re all linked together, which they’re arranging, re-arranging and debating, as they each find their place in the climate information system.
The USAID-funded CISRI program (Climate Information Services Research Initiative), led by Mercy Corps with CRS and Practical Action, has brought this group together for a two-day discussion and action planning workshop aimed at catalyzing locally-driven improvements to climate services in Niger. Prior to this gathering, the CISRI team spent weeks diving deep into the climate information needs and challenges facing smallholder farmers in the Tillabery region, using the Participatory Climate Information Services Systems Development Methodology (PCISSD). Over the course of fourteen participatory workshops with over 140 farmers, the team heard about the damage and agricultural losses farmers experience from patchy rainfall, delayed rainy seasons, torrential storms, unexpected dry spells and a multitude of pests. In this part of the country, where smallholders have limited land and resources, these losses have major implications for household food security and livelihoods. With timely, precise and accurate climate and weather information, farmers would be able to better prepare for and mitigate these weather and climate-related impacts. However, farmers face a number of needs and challenges in accessing and using this information.
In line with the PCISSD Methodology, the CISRI team also focused on strengthening the capacity of local actors at all levels to contribute meaningfully to multi-stakeholder discussions on climate information. This work - embodied in the Empowerment stage that runs throughout the Methodology - focuses on building actors’ 1) awareness of the role and value of climate information; 2) ability to articulate their information challenges and needs; and 3) capacity to advocate for changes that would improve the system. Through the workshops, the CISRI team engaged farmers in participatory mapping activities and discussions to build these capacities, and held interviews with other stakeholders to ensure common understanding, vocabulary and knowledge around CIS. This approach puts the needs and perspectives of farmers at the heart of the conversation so that CIS providers can hear directly from the users about what’s working or not.
When the group came together for a culminating workshop, each actor had the capacity and confidence to meaningfully engage in the conversation, whether they were a smallholder farmer, a meteorologist or a mayor. With this rich array of voices and perspectives, the participants were able to interrogate challenges in a new light and identify opportunities for improvement. By the end of the meeting, actors had exchanged contact information and made time-bound action plans for improving the system, based on each actor’s role and capacity. Radio journalists, for instance, assured messaging would be shared in local languages. Local actors in Tillabery went on to design a method for diffusing climate information via mayors and commune-level early warning groups.
Across the world, smallholder farmers like those in Niger are facing devastating impacts from the ongoing climate crisis. Climate services have the potential to support sustainable and resilient development in the face of these risks and hazards by providing information that can enhance agricultural production, mitigate harvest losses, protect and increase incomes, and improve food security. Local capacity strengthening focused on building actors ability to collaborate, exchange information and understand one another’s needs must go hand in hand with efforts to enhance the precision and accuracy of forecasting, improve dissemination channels and enhance access for impoverished communities.
The CISRI approach, which has since been replicated in southern Niger, Senegal and Nepal (report forthcoming), demonstrates the value of bringing together key CIS stakeholders from across the value chain, creating space for empowerment and more robust feedback from farmers, and facilitating consensus-building for action.
For more information, visit the Participatory Climate Information Services Systems Development Methodology page.
Kristin Lambert is an Agriculture Advisor on Mercy Corps' Technical Support Unit, based in Washington, DC. She works on the Food for Peace-funded SCALE award, which supports FFP-funded emergency and development food security programs in the technical areas of agriculture, NRM and alternative livelihoods.
Amanda Lewis is an Agriculture and Livelihoods Technical Advisor with Catholic Relief Services in West Africa, based in Dakar, Senegal.
Mary Allen is the Senior Expert for Agricultural and Livelihoods at Practical Action, based in Bamako, Mali.