Events / June 17, 2019

Agro-Climatic Committees Bring Weather Science to Colombian Farmers

Record flooding in the Central and Midwestern United States has led to unprecedented delays in spring planting. The incredibly wet conditions have forced some corn and soybean farmers to wait on putting seed in the ground longer than ever before recorded in Department of Agriculture data, reports Emily Moon of Pacific Standard. Likewise, the climatic confusion many refer to simply as “Global Weirding” is on full display in South America. Rainfall in the Andes is sweeping down through the Atacama Desert, while in the southern region, unprecedentedly high temperatures spark wildfires. “The world’s driest desert is flooding and some of the planet’s wettest woodlands are burning. Welcome to summer in Chile,” writes Bloomberg’s Daniela Guzman. Farmers and scientists the world over are recognizing that out of character weather may very well be the new agricultural normal—and for that reason, a bridge of information between farmers and climate scientists must be maintained. In the country of Colombia, Local Technical Agro-Climatic Committees (LTACs) provide a crucial opportunity for information and solutions to move back and forth between atmosphere observers and land stewards of every background.

Agro-Climatic Committees Bring Weather Science to Colombian Farmers

The difference between climate and weather is often described as, “climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.” Traditional farming knowledge is based on a rich understanding of regional climate. This understanding, built over seasons, decades, and generations, informs planting, harvesting, and so many other minute, time-sensitive decisions over the course of the growing season. However, as the disparity between climate expectations and weather realities grows, farmers must contend with a strange new normal that may frustrate their traditional. It is estimated that this variation between expectations and reality is responsible for one-third of the variability in global crop production—an incredible sum.

With the significance of this variability in mind, CGIAR, the global research partnership focused on food security, promotes Agro-Climatic Committees as a possible solution. “If farmers and the local rural community at large can access and understand weather and climate forecasts and the responses of their crop production, processing, and marketing options under local conditions,” CGIAR advocates, “they can make better decisions on how to manage their farms and businesses.” Of course for LTACs to be effective, local must be more than an adjective—it must be the heart of the movement.

In a recent review of the LTAC experiment, researchers noted, “as Colombia is socially and ecologically heterogeneous, one-size-fits-all solutions are not realistic. Furthermore, farmers generally prefer making their own decisions in the context of local socio-economic, environmental, and technological conditions.” The Agro-Climatic Committees are not about scientists removed from the field dictating what Colombian farmers should do. Nor do the committees ignore the value of local, traditional knowledge. The goal is collaboration, with vital knowledge moving both directions.

Agro-Climatic Committees have been established in the Colombian regions of Cauca and Córdoba. At monthly meetings, climate scientists provide short-term, regional climate predictions. Within the meeting, farmers, scientists, and staff from NGOs, universities, seed companies, and more discuss the findings and how they can best adapt to the climatic conditions and the conditions of produce markets and resource availability. The collaborative suggestions are then distributed throughout the region in bulletins, WhatsApp groups, through growers’ federations and other informal channels. In the Cuaca region, researchers demonstrated at meetings the potential value of irrigation for potatoes, maize, and beans during an impending dry season. The farmers present then collaborated to determine how they could capture and store rainwater for irrigation and plant drought-tolerant crops from regional seed banks.

The sheer diversity of stakeholders present at Colombia’s Agro-Climatic Committee meetings can make organizing the gatherings a bit unwieldy, but the potential for communal resilience in the face of climate weirding is undeniable. Though laborious, the decentralized design is quite appropriate as well. In the grand scheme of things, it only makes sense that the ecological features of resilience—diversity, cross-pollination, and adaptability—must be mirrored in the social connections that facilitate agricultural stewardship in Columbia and around the world.