Despite the El Niño-induced drought, farmers in Indonesia have harvested impressive yields of rice as a result of award-winning Climate Field Schools organized by the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics (BMKG).
The knowledge gained during the Climate Field Schools is now being shared with other countries in Asia Pacific as part of a drive supported by the World Meteorological Organization to use tailored climate information to boost food security in a region which has been hit by drought, floods and devastating tropical cyclones this year.
“We need to exploit climate information for the benefit of society, especially in countries which most need it. Farmers need to know how to cope with climate variability and climate change which could significantly hamper their production, reduce their crops and cut their earnings,” said Dr Andi Eka Sakya, Director-General of BMKG.
“Agriculture is one of the most highly sensitive sectors to the drought we are experiencing in this El Niño year,” said Dr Sakya.
Some 28 million Indonesians (11.3 percent of the population) live below the poverty line, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, which fears that the El Niño event will hit the poor hardest.
In a bid to reduce the vulnerability and in close cooperation with the Department of Agriculture, BMKG has pioneered the establishment of Climate Field Schools.. Now in their fifth year, the schools take place in more than 25 provinces and provide intensive hands-on training and learning for agricultural extension workers and farmers.
During the three-month field schools, BMKG staff and extension workers meet with the farmers every 10 days to discuss how to apply weather and climate information during the planting and growing season, as well as how to use simple tools such as rain gauges, temperature and humidity readings.
“One of the main challenges is communicating climate science to the end user,” said Robert Stefanski, chief of WMO’s Agricultural Meteorology Division. “We have to translate our language about what is happening in the upper atmosphere into basic information like ‘will there be rain in 2 days” or “can we do field work in 3 days?””
Results of the Climate Field Schools have been encouraging, with increases in maize and rice yields of up to 30% in the selected pilot project fields in the past four years.
In Sindang Jaya, in the province of Banten, farmers this year for the first time planted rice during the secondary July-September cultivation season on plots of land normally used for less productive vegetables. The main crop will be planted in the rainy season, which normally begins at the end of November.
“Before, we couldn’t even get anything from the field during the dry season. In the past we tried to plant paddy rice but we failed. Thanks to BMKG Climate School Field, this year we had a good harvest,“ said Yamah, one of the farmers in Sindang Jaya after the harvest day on 7 September.
“We have learnt a lot and know now how to plan our planting and harvesting according to weather and climate conditions. Before we relied on knowledge passed down from our parents. But the weather is different from how it used to be and so the traditional knowledge is no longer so relevant,” said another one of the Climate Field School participants, Mrs Engkay.
The Climate Field School in Sindang Jaya divided 3000 m² land into 2 type of paddy rice lands, organic and non-organic. The Central Bureau of Statistics of Serang District, using the “ubinan” method (2.5 x 2,5 m²), reported that the farmers harvested more than 7 tons in non-organic land and more than 6 tons in organic land.
There is heavy emphasis on “learning-by-doing” and on team-building. The training is also gender-specific because men and women have different roles in rice cultivation and harvesting (women do the first planting and cut the crop).
“Women in this province are the decision makers. So, by empowering women we are able to influence the men. It makes a big difference,” said extension worker Nelly Harlina, who says she is motivated because improved climate knowledge leads to a big increase in farmers’ incomes.
The user outreach approach is in line with the aims of the WMO-spearheaded Global Framework of Climate Services (GFCS), which seeks to bring together providers and users of climate services. Agriculture production and food security is one of the top priorities of the GFCS.
The Climate Field Schools won an award for being one of Indonesia’s top innovations last year.
BMKG is intent on ensuring the long-term sustainability of the project by ensuring that the knowledge is spread as widely as possibly.
With support from WMO, it organized a “Training of Trainers Course” aimed at staff from meteorological and agricultural departments from throughout the Southeast Asian region.
Participants from Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Vanuatu and Viet Nam the four-day session at the Regional Training Centre in Bogor Citeko.
During the training session, Indonesian experts provided lectures and hands-on exercises on cloud and rain formation processes, the introduction of simple meteorological instruments, and the introduction of science-based information to cropping techniques based on indigenous knowledge.
“The training has been very useful for me,” said Terencio Fernandez Moniz. “It is a good example for Timor L’Este to follow to give more climate knowledge to farmers.”
Participants from Vanuatu said the experience would help them improve services to farmers who are struggling to rebuild their lives and livelihoods after the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam, which made a direct hit on the main island as a top-category 5 cyclone in March.
“The climate field school practices we have learnt will be very valuable to the Philippines and maybe to other countries in Asia and the Pacific,” said Lolita Vinalay of the Philippines. “We gained valuable knowledge and learned how to communicate it in a way which is understandable to farmers and applicable to their method of farming.”
Photos of the Climate Field School and Training of the Trainers meeting are available here