Information key to climate change adaptation, say small farmers
One of the first studies to explore what persuades small farmers to adapt to climate change has found that access to information and technical institutions are the most important factors. A survey of 1,000 Ethiopian cereal crop farmers, carried out by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in the Nile River basin, Ethiopia, found that poor access to technology and weak informal networks are also hampering farmers' ability to adapt. The results were presented at a conference entitled 'How can African agriculture adapt to climate change? Results and Conclusions for Ethiopia and Beyond' held in Nazareth this month (11–13 December, 2008).
For the survey, the researchers matched the farmers' adaptive efforts to their crop yields, using monthly meteorological data. About half of the farmers said they were not adapting at all to changes in temperature and rainfall. They blamed a lack of information followed by shortages of labour, land and money. Households led by older and more experienced farmers, and by literate farmers, were more likely to try to adapt. Large households were also more likely to respond, suggesting that the availability of labour is a key issue. "The majority of farmers do not have information on what to do,'' said Mahmud Yesuf, of the Ethiopian Development Research Institute, a co-author of the paper.
Yesuf, a member of the Environmental Economics Policy Forum for Ethiopia, warned that many technologies are presented to farmers as the only solution. ''A technology appropriate for one region may absolutely be unsuitable for another," he said. Earlier research has indicated that farmers' perceptions of appropriate responses to global warming and the threat of climate change could be inaccurate (see: Low yields 'due to wary farmers, not climate change').
African farmers find it relatively easy to alter planting schedules or use different tillage methods but need to do more, such as using seed varieties designed to survive climate change, warned Kidane Georgis of the Ethiopian Institute of Agriculture, who attended the meeting. Georgis also said that national and regional climate change research institutions were not interacting well with each other, which affected the speed and quality of information sharing. Weak agriculture department extension systems hamper the farmers' uptake of new technologies, he said.
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