Niger, 2014

Making Climate Information Services Work for sub-Saharan African Farmers

By Climatelinks
The Challenge

Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, smallholder farmers are at the frontlines of an increasingly variable and changing climate. Frequent and severe climate shocks (e.g. droughts and floods) threaten farmers’ lives and livelihoods, challenging the role agriculture could play in promoting economic growth, food security, poverty reduction and community resilience.
Timely, farmer-focused weather and climate information services can lessen these vulnerabilities by informing decisions of smallholder farmers on matters such as when to plant, how much fertilizer to apply, and when or where to irrigate. Such measures may enhance food security by reducing harvest losses, improving social and economic outcomes and increasing livelihood and community resilience.
Despite research to-date and growing investments in climate information services, critical gaps limit the scale and potentially transformative impacts of such services on lives and livelihoods, including current understanding of: 1) how climate information services can best meet the decision-making needs of farmers; 2) the factors that most influence their delivery, uptake and use; and, 3) the interventions that lead to the greatest impacts on agricultural communities, particularly for their most vulnerable members.

About USAID’s Learning Agenda on Climate Services

USAID is investing in a learning agenda on climate services, recognizing that there have been limited climate services investments in sub-Saharan Africa and limited objective evidence regarding their effectiveness or the socio-economic circumstances that constrain their use.  The learning agenda will generate new information, evidence, and learning on effective production, delivery and use of climate information to improve rural agricultural livelihood decision-making and outcomes.
The USAID-funded Climate Information Services Research Initiative (CISRI) addresses these gaps in knowledge, methods, communication and capacity to better serve the needs of smallholder farmers.  The goal of CISRI is two-fold: 1) to identify the contextual elements that influence the application of climate services in a way that improves livelihood outcomes within a variable and changing climate; and 2) in doing so, developing methods to evaluate this impact effectively to inform development programming and investments.


Ethiopia, 2011
Key Activities of CISRI

CISRI has four interrelated work streams to achieve this goal over a three-year timeframe:

  1. Synthesis of the State of the Art & Evidence: CISRI begins with a synthesis and critical analysis of existing knowledge on programs in climate information services, identifying gaps and generating peer-reviewed manuscripts which will expand and challenge current theory and evidence.
  2. Systems Analysis of CIS: The program will evaluate existing climate services systems by piloting participatory mapping and evaluation techniques, focusing on identifying inefficiencies and breakdowns as the foundations for intervention.
  3. Piloting Evaluation Approaches in Select Climate Services Programs: CISRI will also develop and pilot innovative processes and methodologies for evaluating the uptake and effectiveness of existing climate services, targeting knowledge and evidence gaps.
  4. Uptake & Application of Learning: Ongoing efforts will distill and disseminate the knowledge and new methodologies that the program generates, through development of guidance and strategic stakeholder engagement with major climate services funders and implementers.

These lessons will improve the design of climate services programs, ultimately advancing the impact of future development investments on the livelihoods of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. The work will focus in Niger, Senegal, Rwanda, and Kenya and is expected to conclude by September 2019.

CISRI is implemented by a consortium of research institutions and implementing agencies. Led by Mercy Corps, the consortium includes partners from Practical Action Consulting, Clark University HURDL, Columbia University IRI, ICRAF, and CRS.

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Resilience, Weather



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. 

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