Explore learning briefs highlighting the impact and scalability of agrometeorological innovations, empowering smallholder farmers
Climate variability and change are increasingly impacting small-scale farmers in many countries. Climate conditions, including timing and amounts of rainfall as well as extremes in temperature, have a strong impact on the outcomes of crop and livestock enterprises. This means that climate information and associated decision-making support are essential for small-scale farmers.
Currently, farmers in Zambia and across the region have limited access to essential information on the climate in their location. For three years, GIZ is collaborating with the University of Reading to improve the access of smallholder farmers to climate services through the BMZ-funded initiatives Climate Risk Insurance and Information in Zambia (CRIIZ) and Digital Climate Services for Smallholder Farmers (E-PICSA).
Three learning briefs have been developed to document the lessons learned from this collaboration.
Collaborative efforts to enhance climate services
Since the projects started hundreds of Zambian farmers have adopted the PICSA (Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture) approach. PICSA is an award-winning initiative that equips smallholder farmers to make better decisions based on accurate, location-specific, climate and weather information; locally relevant crop, livestock and livelihood options; and with the use of participatory tools to aid their decision-making.
On behalf of the BMZ, the E-PICSA project is now implementing a gender-sensitive, digital version in Zambia and Malawi. E-PICSA is implemented by the Fund for the Promotion of Innovation in Agriculture (i4Ag) in Zambia and Malawi. It involves two main digital innovations. Firstly, an automated system for National Meteorological Services provides location-specific historical climate information and forecasts. And secondly, the freely available, locally managed E-PICSA decision support app designed with and for farmers and agricultural field staff.
Guidance for the digital PICSA application comes from the Principles for Digital Development. The tool is co-development and iteratively tested with farmers, agricultural field, and extension staff from public and private organizations. It is important to note that PICSA is a climate service approach that goes far beyond the aspect of digitalization.
To date, the non-digital PICSA has successfully stimulated innovation and change by farmers in more than twenty countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Evaluations have consistently shown 80-90% adoption rates and up to 60% yield increases. The AGRICA study carried out by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research accompanies the introduction of PICSA in Zambia through modeling. The study shows that PICSA is a highly cost-effective investment: After one year the benefits greatly outweigh the costs.
Sharing insights through learning briefs
For the first time, the learning briefs share insights from Zambia’s experience with PICSA to a broader audience.
- The first learning brief illustrates the power of radio for delivering information to farmers, who often have limited access to other sources such as the internet or agricultural extension services. A key learning is to focus more on capacity development, rather than prescribing specific practices. Farmers should be equipped to make their own decisions. Broadcasting agricultural content at optimal listening times, hiring and training local producers, developing local language expertise, and incorporating regular farmer feedback further support this key principle of farmer empowerment.
- The second learning brief outlines the requirements for climate services for livestock management in smallholder systems and provides recommendations on how these can be met. Livestock in smallholder farming have multiple crucial roles, including income generation, nutrition, and providing means for emergencies. Due to the essential role of livestock for smallholders, climate services need to cater to the specific needs and challenges of livestock production. This includes considering factors such as temperature, rainfall, pests, diseases, availability of feed and forage, and the impact of climate variability on livestock performance and survival.
- The third learning brief discusses how PICSA can be scaled. To achieve country-wide scaling within a short timeframe, it is recommended to engage in a well-coordinated multi-stakeholder effort, both in Zambia and other regions. The PICSA approach has demonstrated wide adoption, resulting in positive impacts on livelihoods and nutrition. By leveraging digital applications, such as the E-PICSA app, the potential for rapid scaling and dissemination of PICSA practices can be better realized, benefiting a larger number of farmers and contributing to enhanced food security and economic well-being.
What to take from it in a nutshell and what you can do next
The learning briefs provide valuable insights into the successful implementation and potential scalability of agrometeorological innovations in Zambia. By empowering smallholder farmers with climate services, they contribute to improved food security and economic well-being.
In May 2023, the Climate & Nature Working Group of SNRD Africa initiated a new task team focused on Climate Services for Smallholder Farmers. This task team aims to facilitate knowledge exchange and learning on PICSA, E-PICSA, and other successful climate service initiatives. All interested members of the SNRD are warmly welcome to join this forum to further drive knowledge exchange and learning in this area.