In a recent talk at the Walker Institute, climate change adaptation specialist Suraje Dessai stressed the need to move away from the linear model of 'predict and provide' which believes that more science = better decisions = successful adaptation, towards an understanding of the limits of what science can provide. Talking in the context of decision making for climate change adaptation in the UK, he emphasised the need to make climate science more useful (matches user needs), usable (user-friendly) and valuable (salient and applicable).
|A smallholder farmer in Rajasthan, India. He decides how much wheat to |
grow in the winter based on residual soil moisture from the rains, amount
of seed he has, and family's food requirements.
"farmers dependent on rainfall don't know when its going to rain for sure."..."There is so much uncertainty and risk in rainfed farming that many farmers, particularly at the small scale, have to spend quite a bit of effort managing that risk and uncertainty; often because they have very little freeboard by which to absorb great reductions in yield or sudden shortfalls in output or revenue."In an attempt to facilitate local adaptation to climate change, policy makers look to science to 'provide answers' to this situation. This points to the belief that 'enough' science will lead to 'appropriate' solutions. A belief that the answers are 'waiting to be found'. Thus, there has been a push for higher resolution models, more accurate rainfall forecasting, as a way to allow for robust decision making. However, while important in its own right, this approach has to be questioned. Why an emphasis on better climate information (and not better market information, welfare schemes information, credit availability information)? Is the climate information given to farmers useful, usable and/or valuable? Are there adequate channels to deliver this information? And finally (perhaps most importantly), will this information help farmers make more robust decisions in their contexts of high uncertainty?
Further resources on the topic:
- Dennis Wichelns's video which questions the efficacy of water productivity as a tool to evaluate sustainable strategies of water use.
- Providing climate services that make sense to farmers, a video and blog by CCAFS (CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security) documenting their initiatives in trying to find solutions to making climate services more farmer-appropriate.
- Experiences of dealing with uncertainties in practice, a presentation by Suraje Dessai