University of Reading researchers are putting smallholder farmers in the developing world at the heart of a new sustainable approach to help manage climate risks and avoid crop disasters.
Called PICSA (Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture), the approach couples information on climate, crops, livestock and livelihoods with tools that farmers can use to determine the best options for their circumstances.
Smallholder farmers are key to food security in sub-Saharan Africa, where two thirds of the population depends on small-scale farming as their main source of food and income. Critical farming and household decisions depend upon how much rain falls, when the season starts, the length of the season and the likelihood and timing of dry spells; all of which vary considerably from year to year.
Three elements are at the heart of the PICSA approach:
- Historical climate data is combined with location-specific crop and livestock information, and is presented in an accessible way so farmers can assess risks.
- Farmers use planning tools to consider crop, livestock and livelihood options to make decisions that are right for them.
- Farmers are encouraged to evaluate and update their plans based on seasonal and short-term forecasts.
The PICSA Team works to build capacity amongst local agencies and people to deliver information, training and support for farmers, ensuring that the programme can continue even after our researchers have left.
Since the launch of pilot operations in 2013, PICSA has reached around 30,000 small-scale farmers in Ghana, Malawi and Tanzania, helping many farmers to increase their incomes and, in some cases, have funds available for reinvestment.
With the help of the University's supporters, the next step is to scale up in order to reach more smallholder farmers. The PICSA Team are currently working with National Meteorological Agencies, government extensions and NGOs in additional countries, including Kenya, Lesotho, Mali, Rwanda and Zimbabwe, and hopes to expand the PICSA approach further to reach many more thousands of farmers in a sustainable manner.
For more information about PICSA, please click here.