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Earlier this month, U.S. President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a new era of collaboration on agricultural research in the face of climate change. In fact, efforts have been underway since 2009: the Earth Institute’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) has been working for the past two years with India’s Ministry of Agriculture and other institutions to improve forecasts of the seasonal monsoon rains that water much of the nation’s farms, and to help farmers manage drought.
“Cooperation between Indian and American researchers and scientists sparked the Green Revolution,” said Obama during a Nov. 8 joint session of India’s Parliament in New Delhi. “Now, as farmers and rural areas face the effects of climate change and drought, we’ll work together to spark a second, more sustainable Evergreen Revolution.” He and Singh later issued a joint pledge to pursue initiatives on clean energy, health and jobs, as well as agriculture and climate.
Shiv Someshwar, director of the IRI’s Asia and Pacific regional program, said that the two leaders “sent a clear signal that scientific and technological advancements in managing weather and climate risks are critical for making rural communities more resilient. The dual emphasis on better climate prediction and its uptake by farmers and policy makers is exactly right. The IRI’s work with Indian partners over the past two years has been built on this very premise.”
More than 60 percent of farmland in India lacks irrigation, and thus depends on monsoonal rains, which come roughly from late May to early October. A failed monsoon often means complete loss of a crop, and even below-average rainfall often results in increased food prices and hurts economic growth. The government spends massive sums on drought relief–according to the agriculture ministry, about $5 billion during the last major drought, in 2002. A lesser, but still damaging, drought took place in 2009.
These costs have sparked interest in identifying ways to plan ahead, particularly as concern grows over the potential for climate change to affect monsoon cycles. IRI’s effort is funded by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and India’s Ministry of Agriculture, which together plan to issue detailed forecasts to farmers starting in the 2011 rainy monsoon season. The IRI project, known as the Extended Range Forecast System for Climate Risk Management in Agriculture, is aimed not only improving the forecasts, but helping farmers and policy makers prepare early for adverse conditions. In addition to conducting field-based research, IRI has co-hosted training events in India and sponsored Indian scientists for research visits to the United States to improve their forecasting and risk-management abilities. Partners include the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi; India Meteorological Department; National Center for Medium-Range Forecasting; Indian Council of Agricultural Research, and a number of state agricultural universities. For full details, visit the project home page or download this flyer.
Below are Obama’s remarks about agriculture. (The entire transcript of his speech is here):
Together, we can strengthen agriculture. Cooperation between Indian and American researchers and scientists sparked the Green Revolution. Today, India is a leader in using technology to empower farmers, like those I met yesterday who get free updates on market and weather conditions on their cell phones. And the United States is a leader in agricultural productivity and research. Now, as farmers and rural areas face the effects of climate change and drought, we’ll work together to spark a second, more sustainable Evergreen Revolution
Together, we’re improving Indian weather forecasting systems before the next monsoon season. We aim to help millions of Indian farmers — farming households save water and increase productivity, improve food processing so crops don’t spoil on the way to market, and enhance climate and crop forecasting to avoid losses that cripple communities and drive up food prices.
And as part of our food security initiative, we’re going to share India’s expertise with farmers in Africa. And this is an indication of India’s rise — that we can now export hard-earned expertise to countries that see India as a model for agricultural development. It’s another powerful example of how American and Indian partnership can address an urgent global challenge.
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A colleague has written a nice story about a new project at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society that aims to improve forecasting of the Indian monsoon…
In May and June each year, speculation about the coming of the monsoon fills newspapers and conversations across India. Urban dwellers eagerly await respite from overbearing heat. Investors scrutinize forecasts, trying to anticipate possible impacts on food prices. But none have more at stake than India’s over 100 million farming households.
In India, where more than 60% of agricultural land is rainfed and the average farm size is only 3.5 acres, a failed monsoon often means complete loss of a crop. Recent increases in suicides among heavily indebted farmers have highlighted the extreme desperation in some areas. A lackluster monsoon can seriously impact food prices and India’s overall economic growth. For example, this year’s poor monsoon has led to increases in sugar, legume, and potato prices, and many estimate that India’s gross domestic product growth rate may drop by a full percentage point. The government also spends massive sums on drought relief. According to the agriculture ministry, relief expenses totaled about $5 billion during the last major drought in 2002.
The magnitude of these human and economic costs – particularly as concern grows over the potential for climate change to increase extreme weather patterns – has sparked interest in finding more ways to plan ahead. The International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University is partnering with Indian government agencies and universities in an innovative new research effort led by the government of India designed to improve monsoon forecasts and develop strategies that help farmers and policy makers prepare and act early, based on information tailored to their needs.
Read the rest here.
Photo: Sheshagiri Rao/IRI
Forecasts by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society and other institutions show that a weak El Niño has developed in the equatorial Pacific, and is likely to continue evolving with warmer-than-normal conditions persisting there until early 2010.
Given this,the IRI is trying to use the opportunity to educate people about El Niño and its cooler sister, La Niña. We decided to do this by addressing some common misconceptions that our scientists come across when talking with people about these important climate phenomena. Such “list” stories are quite effective on the web and are favorites for people to spread via sharing and social networks.
I also kicked off a series of brief audio interviews with our top scientists to discuss how El Niño affects food production, health, water availability and other social concerns. By releasing these over a few months, I can keep communicating to journalists, policy makers, etc., that IRI staff has a deep and broad level of knowledge on the topic. Below are the first few paragraphs of the story. Enjoy, and share!
Forecasts by the IRI and other institutions show that a weak El Niño has developed in the equatorial Pacific, and is likely to continue evolving with warmer-than-normal conditions persisting there until early 2010.What exactly is this important climate phenomenon and why should society care about it? Who will be most affected? We address these questions as well as clear up some common misconceptions about El Niño, La Niña, and everything in between!
First, the basics.
El Niño refers to the occasional warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean around the equator. The warmer water tends to get only 1 to 3 degrees Celsius above average sea-surface temperatures for that area, although in the very strong El Niño of 1997-98, it reached 5 degrees or more above average in some locations. La Niña is the climatological counterpart to El Niño– a yin to its yang, so to speak. A La Niña is defined by cooler-than-normal sea-surface temperatures across much of the equatorial eastern and central Pacific. El Niño and La Niña episodes each tend to last roughly a year, although occasionally they may last 18 months or longer.
The Pacific is the largest ocean on the planet, so a significant change from its average conditions can have consequences for temperature, rainfall and vegetation in faraway places. In normal years, trade winds push warm water-and its associated heavier rainfall-westward toward Indonesia. But during an El Niño, which occurs on average once every three-to-five years, the winds peter out and can even reverse direction, pushing the rains toward South America instead. This is why we typically associate El Niño with drought in Indonesia and Australia and flooding in Peru. These changing climate conditions, combined with other factors, can have serious impacts on society, such as reduced crop harvests, wildfires, or loss of life and property in floods. There is also evidence that El Niño conditions increase the risk of certain vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, in places where they don’t occur every year and where disease control is limited.
During either an El Niño or a La Niña, we also observe changes in atmospheric pressure, wind and rainfall patterns in different parts of the Pacific, and beyond. An El Niño is associated with high pressure in the western Pacific, whereas a La Niña is associated with high pressure in the eastern Pacific. The ‘seesawing’ of high pressure that occurs as conditions move from El Niño to La Niña is known as the Southern Oscillation. The oft-used term El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, reminds us that El Niño and La Niña episodes reflect changes not just to the ocean, but to the atmosphere as well.
ENSO is one of the main sources of year-to-year variability in weather and climate on Earth and has significant socioeconomic implications for many regions around the world. The development of a new El Niño episode in recent months offers an opportunity to clear up some common misconceptions about the climate phenomenon:
El Niño periods cause more disasters than normal periods. On a worldwide basis, this isn’t necessarily the case. But ENSO conditions do allow climate scientists to produce more accurate seasonal forecasts and help them better predict extreme drought or rainfall in several regions around the globe. (Read a 2005 paper on the topic here.)
On a regional level, however, we’ve seen that El Niño and La Niña exert fairly consistent influences on the climate of some regions. For example, El Niño conditions typically cause more rain to fall in Peru, and less rain to fall in Indonesia and Southern Africa. These conditions, combined with socioeconomic factors, can make a country or region more vulnerable to impacts.
“On the other hand, because El Niño enhances our ability to predict the climate conditions expected in these same regions, one can take advantage of that improved predictability to help societies improve preparedness, issue early warnings and reduce possible negative impacts,” says Walter Baethgen who runs IRI’s Latin America and the Carribbean regional program.
El Niño and La Niña significantly affect the climate in most regions of the globe. Actually, they significantly affect only about 25% of the world’s land surface during any particular season, and less than 50% of land surface during the entire time that ENSO conditions persist.
Regions that are affected by El Niño and La Niña see impacts during the entire 8 to 12 months that the climate conditions last. No. Most regions will only see impacts during one specific season, which may start months after the ENSO event first develops. For example, the current El Niño may cause the southern U.S. to get wetter-than-normal conditions in the December to March season, but Kenyans may see wetter-than-normal conditions between October and December.
El Niño episodes lead to adverse impacts only. Fires in southeast Asia, droughts in eastern Australia, flooding in Peru often accompany El Niño events. Much of the media coverage on El Niño has focused on the more extreme and negative consequences typically associated with the phenomenon. To be sure, the impacts can wreak havoc in developing and developed countries alike, but El Niño events are also associated with reduced frequency of Atlantic hurricanes, warmer winter temperatures in northern half of U.S., which reduce heating costs, and plentiful spring/summer rainfall in southeastern Brazil, central Argentina and Uruguay, which leads to above-average summer crop yields.
Read the rest of the story and listen to an audio interview with IRI’s Director-General, Steve Zebiak.Filed under IRI related | Comment (0)
Pak-Ludo, my colleague from CARE, spent the better part of an afternoon driving me to some of the area villages outside of Kupang. It’s easy to see why people can have such difficulties making a living from farming here. The soil is rocky and shallow, and dust-dry.
[Photo: Kupang outskirts. Francesco Fiondella]Filed under photography, travels | Comment (0)
Nusa Tenggara Timur, or East Nusa Tenggara, is a remote province located 1,200 miles from Jakarta (map). It is home to more than four million people, spread across 550 islands. The province is among the poorest in Indonesia–at least a third of its population earns below the poverty line.
Not surprisingly, NTT faces real development challenges, including periods of serious food insecurity. Since irrigation systems are virtually nonexistent, farmers here are almost wholly dependent on monsoon rains to supply water to their crops. But even in years of normal rainfall, the province can expect to distribute between 20 and 25 thousand tons of food aid to families. During El Niño years, which typically result in significantly less rainfall, the aid figure can be twice that. Rates of malnutrition, especially in children, can reach 25% during these periods.
Scientists at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society want to reduce these impacts by using seasonal climate forecasts to alert government authorities about periods when below-average rainfall is expected. Indonesia has a good system in place to respond to food insecurity, but the challenge is generally one of timing. From the moment a problem is declared to the moment the first shipments of rice and other aid is unloaded, half a year may pass. The hope is to give agencies and humanitarian organizations such as CARE Indonesia months of lead time to stock up on food supplies, jump-start their monitoring activities and set aside funds and other resources in case the food problems materialize.
We’ve organized a workshop for tomorrow in NTT’s capital, Kupang, with CARE Indonesia, Bogor Agriculture University (IPB) and the provincial food-security agency in order to share the latest research findings and discuss their potential use in food-security planning. This latter goal is critical. We can issue the best forecasts in the world, but if there’s no institutional system in place to understand and act on them, they’re essentially useless.IRI related, journalism, travels | Comment (1)
The population of Manila has increased sharply in recent decades, and so has its demand for water. Right now, about 97% of metro Manila’s water comes from the Angat reservoir, located north of the city in Bulacan Province (map). The reservoir also serves farmers in Bulacan, who rely on irrigation water to grow their palay (unmilled rice) and vegetables, and it is a critical source of back-up hydroelectric power for the region.
Everything runs smoothly in years of normal rainfall. But when the region gets below-normal rainfall-as is typically the case during an El Niño–the situation gets contentious. Continue reading »Filed under IRI related | Comment (0)
Our latest web story discusses the new collaboration between the International Research Institute for Climate and Society and Oxfam America, a nongovernmental organization that works on poverty issues.
The organization has enlisted IRI’s expertise on index insurance to design contracts for poor farmers in a remote village in the Ethiopian highlands (larger map). The goal of the project is to improve farmers’ ability to manage drought risks and subsequently gain better access to credit. If all goes well, the two organizations and their local partners hope to export the success to other villages and potentially scale up the program to cover entire districts.
Read the full story by visiting the IRI web site.Filed under IRI related | Comment (0)
The International Research Institute for Climate and Society and Swiss Re are jointly hosting a high-level policy roundtable on the use of index insurance for poverty reduction at this year’s Global Humanitarian Forum in Geneva. The roundtable, which takes place on June 24, will include leaders from fields as diverse as reinsurance, climate science, economics and food security, in an effort to gain insight on how index insurance can best serve today’s development needs.
|Index insurance is insurance linked to a weather index such as rainfall, rather than a possible consequence of weather, such as crop failure. “This subtle distinction resolves a number of fundamental problems that make traditional insurance unworkable in rural parts of developing countries,” says IRI scientist Dan Osgood, one of the roundtable’s organizers. “Unlike traditional crop insurance, the insurance company doesn’t need to visit a farmer’s field to determine premiums or to assess damages.”|
Read the rest on the IRI features page
[Image credit: Dan Osgood]Filed under IRI related | Comment (0)