However, NMHSs will need realignment, new resources and training in order to provide location and crop specific actionable weather and climate services and products that link in available technologies, best practices and go the last mile to reach all farmers. The Agromet Advisory Services of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) in the Ministry of Earth Sciences is a small step in this direction, aimed at “weatherproofing” farm production.
Agromet Advisory Services
The sources of weather and climate-related risks in agriculture are numerous and diverse: limited water resources, drought, desertification, land degradation, erosion, hail, flooding, early frosts and many more. Effective weather and climate information and advisory services can inform the decision-making of farmers and improve their management of related agricultural risks. Such services can help develop sustainable and economically viable agricultural systems, improve production and quality, reduce losses and risks, decrease costs, increase efficiency in the use of water, labour and energy, conserve natural resources, and decrease pollution by agricultural chemicals or other agents that contribute to the degradation of the environment. Thus, the importance of the Agromet Advisory Services that have now been established at district levels in India.
These Services meet the real-time needs of farmers and contribute to weather-based crop/livestock management strategies and operations dedicated to enhancing crop production and food security. They can make a tremendous difference in agricultural production by assisting farmers in taking the advantage of benevolent weather and in minimizing the adverse impact of malevolent weather.
Putting the structure in place
IMD began regular weather services for farmers in 1945 in the form of a “Farmers’ Weather Bulletin” and broadcasts through All India Radio in regional languages. In 1971, on the recommendation of the National Commission on Agriculture (NCA), it launched Agrometeorological Advisory Services (AAS), a comprehensive tool tailored to farmers’ need. Then in 1975-1976, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), conducted a Satellite Instructional & Television Experiment (SITE) with IMD and agricultural agencies that led to the production of crop specific weather-based agronomic advisories for different regions of the country. These integrated Agromet Advisory Services were further developed in 2007 and have steadily been improved since.
Today, IMD is implementing operational agrometeorological schemes across the country under a five-tier structure:
- Top-level policy planning body in Delhi
- Execution by the National Agromet Service headquarters in Pune
- Coordination and monitoring by State Agromet Centres
- Definition of the agro-meteorological zone
- District or local level extension and training for input management advisory service
This structure includes State Agricultural Universities, Institutes of Indian Council of Agricultural Research and Indian Institutes of Technology. Without it, the district Agromet Advisory Services would not be sustainable.
Overview of Operational Agromet Advisory Services in India (ICT-Information and Communication Technologies)
NWP: Numerical Weather Product
Production and dissemination
The primary need of a farmer is a location-specific and quantified weather forecast. IMD started by issuing from June 2008 quantitative district level weather forecasts – for rainfall, maximum and minimum temperatures, wind speed and direction, relative humidity and cloudiness – with up to 5 days advance warning and a weekly cumulative rainfall forecast. These products were sent twice a week along with other value added information to 130 AgroMet Field Units (AMFUs) for preparation of district level advisories.
The application of weather forecasts to generate crop advisories requires the definition of a spatial domain of validity and a temporal range as well as accuracy. At the district level, such are prepared containing past weather, forecast for 5 days ahead and a weather-based agrometeorological advisory that includes pest and disease information. The phenological stages of plant development are included in crop specific advisories to offer farmers guidance on cultural practices. All of the information is geared to help farmers maximize output and avert crop damage or loss. The Agromet Advisory Services also has an end-user group feedback mechanism to help the district level forecasters to tailor their services further.
The analysis and decision support information, for example, include information on how to manage pests when the forecast is for relative humidity, rising or falling temperatures or high or low winds; on how to manage irrigation through rainfall and various temperature forecasts; on how to protect crop from thermal stress when the forecast is for extreme temperature conditions, etc. It also helps farmers anticipate and plan for chemical applications, irrigation scheduling, disease and pest outbreaks and many more weather related agriculture-specific operations from cultivar selection to dates of sowing, planting, transplanting, intercultural operations, harvesting and post-harvest operations. In a recent survey conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), 93% of farmers responding agreed that numerical weather prediction were reliable, and asserting that they used the information in making decisions during different farming stages, from sowing to harvesting.
Such actionable weather information is consistently being delivered to farmers and productivity reports have shown significant increases in yields and with it food availability and incomes. A study has demonstrated that the Agromet Advisory Services has decreased cultivation costs overall by up to 25% for the studied crops. Initial results in some cases had shown increased costs of up to 10%, but this was more than offset by consequent rise in net returns of up to 83%. The crops that benefited most are paddy, wheat, pearl millet, and fruits and vegetables. The economic benefit has been estimated at US$ 7.575 billion per year and is extrapolated to rise to US$ 32 billion if the entire farming community in the country were to use Agromet Advisory Services in their agricultural activities.
Outreach to users
Agromet Advisory Services use three dissemination channels – mass media, group awareness campaigns and individual contacts – in order to reach more farmers. Some 19 million farmers are currently subscribed to the SMS advisories, but there is still a need for greater dissemination and to convince farmers of the sustainability of the positive impacts observed in the long term.
The group awareness campaigns are strengthening use of the services in farming communities and helping farmers to be more self-reliant in dealing with weather and climate issues that affect agricultural production. They are also permitting farmers to adapt better by improving their planning skills and management decision-making. A participatory, cross-disciplinary approach is taken to deliver climate and weather information and enhance awareness in these user groups.
IMD, state agricultural universities, Institutes of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Indian Institute of Technology, working with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other stakeholders, have jointly organized these group awareness campaigns in different parts of the country. Farmers receive informative brochures and pamphlets outlining weather-based farming guidelines; information on crop management practices in the district; about pests and diseases, severe weather conditions, crops that can be grown under stress conditions and contingency plans; and on the District Agromet Bulletin – all in local languages. Five plastic rain gauges are distributed to the most progressive farmers participating in the campaign in order to improve the relationship between providers of the advisories and the users and to develop a local, or village level, rain-measuring network. The rain gauges engage farmers in the observation of weather data that contribute to the preparation of the Agromet Advisory Services. Such outreach campaigns are organized in farmers’ club meeting, during scientific field trips, farmers’ field schools, etc.
To further improve the relevance of these services, local-level Agromet Advisory Services have been proposed. High-resolution weather forecasts at local level will be used to develop this service. A pilot study has been carried out in selected locations in Maharashtra for the last three years. For each, IMD has generated 5-day weather forecast – for rainfall, maximum and minimum temperature, cloud cover, maximum and minimum relative humidity, wind speed and direction – using numerical weather prediction models at resolution of 25 km2 as well as 9 km2. The accuracy of these forecasts is approximately 70%. They are used to develop crop-specific and location-specific Agromet Advisory Services. Substantial increases in productivity for cereals, oil seeds and vegetables were observed in the pilot locations. These local-level forecasts have shown incremental benefits of up to 13% over district-based advisories. The weather forecast and warnings have enhanced livelihood security for the rural community in the pilot region.
There is still a long way to go. Agricultural production farmers’ incomes can be further increased by reducing their losses and distress. It is challenging task for government, IMD as well as all the other stakeholders. IMD has set itself the challenge of further enhancing the accuracy of weather forecasts and to make the Agromet Advisory Services more useful and demand-driven by farmers. It will also venture into generating high-resolution medium range weather forecast and advisories that address livestock, poultry and fisheries issues.
A priority for IMD and WMO is to continue to promote Agromet Advisory Services in South Asia countries. The benefits to farmers and the contribution to food security and national economic development are measurable. The return on investment is manyfold for governments that can put effective, tailored agrometeological services in places.
L.S. Rathore, Former Director General of Meteorology, Indian Meteorological Department, New Delhi
Nabansu Chattopadhyay, Deputy Director General of Meteorology, Indian Meteorological Department, Pune