Colombia is using climate data to tell farmers which crops to sow and when, saving them millions of dollars in failed harvests. Colombian Climate and Agricultural Sector advisors give the farmers data-driven guidance tailored to local conditions and seed varieties. The participating farmers act as ambassadors for the program, helping others overcome their wariness of abandoning traditional approaches to farming. Many now rely primarily on the scientific and meteorological data provided by the partnership to shape their planting schedule.
Results & Impact
More than 150,000 farmers receive frequent advice from designated advisors, and 6,000 have adopted climate smart practices. In 2013, the partnership correctly predicted a high risk of crop loss due to drought. As a result, more than 170 farmers in the region of Córdoba decided to leave 1,800 hectares unplanted, saving them losses of more than $3 million in failed crops.
International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Columbia Rice Growers Association, UN Big Data Climate Challenge, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Consultive Group on International Agricultural Research, 6 producer organisations and NGOs
Computer modeling is used to predict optimal crop planting times based on meteorological, economic and agronomical data. Regionalised models are created, allowing advice to be tailored to farmers in different parts of the country. Advisors then transmit information to farmers about the most suitable crops to plant in particular locations, the best time frame to do so and the optimal technology to use. Extension officers (officials responsible for recruiting farmers to use the weather data) work in conjunction with participating farmers to encourage others to take part.
Cost & Value
In 2013, CSAC helped farmers in Córdoba save $3.6 million by deterring them from planting crops prior to a drought.
Running since 2013
Some farmers have been resistant to moving away from traditional methods and adopting a climate-oriented, data-driven approach to farming. To overcome this, farmers already participating in the program work with extension officers to disseminate the project's benefits to other farmers.
Rwanda implemented a similar program, the Rwanda Climate Service for Agriculture project, in 2016. It is focused on sharing climate information to improve crop yields, and brings together national and local governments, development NGOs and other intermediaries. Nearly a million farmers will benefit from the project.
The Colombian government has saved farmers more than $3 million from climate change-induced losses by telling them when to plant rice and what varieties to use.
The initiative combines scientific research on plant growing conditions with analysis of weather patterns to predict the performance of crops under anticipated weather conditions, and was awarded the UN Big Data Challenge prize in 2014.
The Colombian Climate and Agricultural Sector (CSAC) brings together public, private and non-profit groups to pioneer new farming techniques through experimentation and advanced weather forecasting. Scientists from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) conduct research into rice growing techniques using data from experiments and annual rice surveys. FEDEARROZ (the national rice growers’ association) and the Colombian Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) contribute weather information, which is used to identify the relationship between weather patterns and rice growing, and to forecast climactic trends months in advance.
This process has uncovered the most significant factor for the success of rice yields: the amount of solar energy the grain receives while ripening.
The program is delivered through extension officers (officials responsible for increasing the number of participants) and farmers, who together explain the benefits to other farmers and assist them in developing strategies based on CSAC’s information. Localised tests are also conducted, such as soil analysis, to provide comprehensive, tailored advice for every farmer involved in the program. Planting recommendations are delivered months ahead of the growing season through CSAC representatives assigned to their area.
The initiative was born out of the Colombian government’s concern that climate change could make the country’s rice farmers uncompetitive. Changing rainfall patterns reduced average per hectare yields from six tons in 2009 to five tons in 2014. The program has helped to combat this decline, increasing yields between one and two tons per hectare by helping farmers to avoid losses to poor weather.
The advice given by the partnership has helped thousands of farmers so far. CSAC predicted that the first growing season of 2013 would coincide with a drought in northern Colombia which would destroy the rice crops. Over 170 growers in the region of Córdoba decided to leave 1,800 hectares unplanted as a result of the advice. This saved $3.6 million on agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilisers that would have otherwise been lost.
Reliance on traditional seasonal planting strategies has declined as a result of the program, with many farmers now recognising the importance of climatic knowledge in maximising yields. More than 150,000 Colombian farmers receive frequent advice from designated advisors, and 6,000 have adopted their practices.
To date, the program has focused exclusively on rice because it is expensive to grow and is the staple food for many Colombians, particularly the poor. Although Colombia produces 2.4 million tons of rice per year, free trade agreements have made life difficult for native rice farmers who have struggled to compete with prices from Venezuela in recent years. However, maize, potato, cassava and beans are also important crops for the country, and there are plans to introduce these into CSAC as well.
(Picture credit: Pixnio/USAID)