Complying with conditions and needs

According to Van Noordwijk et al. (2005), at a meeting of local governments, national and international agencies and NGOs in Meulaboh, Sumatra, there were five main reasons that became apparent for the problems encountered in assisting poor people in building or rebuilding a sustainable livelihood. A first basic problem in Aceh/Sumatra appeared to be one of appropriate need assessments, ttere was a call for more critical consideration of local needs. For more than 20 years now, we have been arguing and practising in agrometeorology the local bottom up determination of "which problems with agrometeorological components that farmers bring up need to be solved first" (e.g. Stigter et al. 2005c). ttis should replace the offers of agrometeorologists of what they are able to solve. In Aceh, as well as in Sudan, "we need to anticipate the broad range of people's needs in the recovery of infrastructure and help communities prepare for the future" (Van Noordwijk et al. 2005). Doing that, we should realize that "livelihood strategies emerge in response to opportunities, not from preconceived master plans or blueprints" (Van Noordwijk et al. 2005; see also Roling et al. 2004 and Hounkonnou et al. 2006; but also some failures wrongly talked into useful results by Bouma et al. 2006).

tte second important issue is that the biggest challenge facing all organizations working in the affected regions in Sumatra is collaboration and coordination, between agencies and between actors at different levels (Van Noordwijk et al. 2005). For agrometeorology we recall Jacob Lomas' long time call for collaboration between relevant government organizations in agriculture and meteorology. He noted particularly the lack of cooperation between the institutions providing information and relevant advisories and those responsible for their transfer to the farming communities (e.g. Lomas et al. 2000), which one of us more recently again echoed (e.g. Stigter 2004).

Related to the above is the observed urgent necessity in Sumatra of attention to a "missing middle layer" in this co-ordination (Van Noordwijk et al. 2005). And this is again exactly the need for "intermediaries" between NMHSs, Research In stitutes, Universities and agrometeorological extension (as another layer of such intermediaries) close to the farmers, which are advocated over already many years in agrometeorological services (Stigter et al. 2005a; WMO 2006a). tte observed needs for capacity building in these directions, including better involvement of the lowest level local government agencies, that is presently absent in Sumatra/Aceh (Van Noordwijk et al. 2005), has again its parallel in the need for capacity building for agrometeorological services, ttis is in the observed insufficient involvement through education and training of the user community, tte latter includes the farm advisory services that can provide relevant assistance, to be derived and adapted from more general weather information products (Lomas et al. 2000; Stigter 2004; WMO 2006a).

tte three remaining issues in Aceh/Sumatra are all related to policy matters. Van Noordwijk et al. (2005) distinguish (a) environmental issues, (b) infrastruc-tural and market issues and (c) issues related to the lack of base line data and the support to collect and collate these. Under (a) they argue for example that (a physical system for) preventing another tsunami to cause the same amount of damage has probably been too high on the public list, ttis is comparable to our pleas for having environmental monitoring, early warning, and other predictions of disasters in (agro)meteorology, always directly related to relatively easy and economically sound preparedness and mitigation possibilities within the livelihood of people (e.g. Stigter et al. 2003).

Under (b) it was indicated that many aid organizations forgot some important aspects of "macro" market chains and infrastructural necessities in Aceh/Sumatra. Well known parallels in agrometeorology are in examples where farmers do not exploit microclimate or other yield enhancing improvements because of a lack of roads to markets, lack of appropriate storage facilities or discouraging price ratios between added inputs and higher yields. In improvement of traditional underground sorghum grain storage in Central Sudan for example, mobility and economic aspects had to be taken into account as well (Bakheit et al. 2001, 2005).

tte point (c) observed in Aceh/Sumatra finally is again only too well known to agrometeorologists. tte slow process of trial and error in (changing) natural resource use, caused by the lack of base-line data and the support to collect and collate these, obviously applies to routine meteorological and agricultural data in rural and other remote areas. And also to data from fields stricken by pest or disease. However, it almost even more so applies to basic socio-economic data, causing completely wrong approaches in agrometeorological designs due to completely wrong assumptions (e.g. Onyewotu et al. 2003; Stigter et al. 2005b).

ttis confusion is also well illustrated in a recent paper by Verdin et al. (2005). ttey believe that creative coping strategies to manage climate change and increased climate variability requires fundamental technical capacities first, illustrated with Ethiopia as a case, ttey state that adaptation strategies cannot be developed and implemented until trends and shifts in climate have been identified using access to modern methods of data capture, data management, telecommunications, modelling and analysis. It is true that "it is in the hands of those with local knowledge that creative adaptation strategies will be forthcoming". But the wishful thinking of large scale transfer of advanced climate science and technology to African counterparts as condition sine qua non (Verdin et al. 2005), however sympathetically proposed, starts to come close to the naivety and lack of understanding of policy factors that was shown by Huntingford and Gash (2005) and criticized by Stigter (2005d). Local progress can be made differently through policies of improved response farming and other improved preparedness strategies under the present conditions (Stigter et al. 2005b). Further progress will come long thereafter based on further agrometeorological services established with the three components that were earlier distinguished (alreadyin the title of Stigter 2005c).

With this last point we are back at what definitely is the largest and most important parallel between the experiences in Sumatra/Aceh and those in the introduction of agrometeorological services in poor rural areas: the lack of appropriate need assessments. For agrometeorology, we need to train a "middle level", "intermediaries", working as two-way guidance, ttey should simultaneously support highly needed actions of farmers at the production level as well as the generation of more relevant and better absorbable (more client friendly) products by NMHSs, Research Institutes and Universities. Without this, many weather and climate products, and related efforts, remain lost on those farmers that need our support most, ttis is well illustrated by the surprising results from Ahmed et al. (2006) in Pakistan for irrigated farming in Rechna Doab. ttey statistically found that farming experience was only a negative factor in farm economic land productivity, because more experienced farmers were too rigid and less experienced farmers too unskilled. Both need services for change, tte pertinent differentiation and upscal-ing needed in these exercises are illustrated by the Chinese research we discuss in the following paragraphs.

Effective and accountable local authorities are the single most important institution for reducing the toll of natural and human induced disasters (Sahni and Ari-yabandu 2003). In India, the country's day to day administration centres around the District Collector who is also in charge of all the relief measures at that level, ttere are sub-divisions and tehsils. tte lowest unit of administration is the village. All these tiers of administration function as a team to provide succour to the people in the event of disaster (Sahni and Ariyabandu 2003). It would be helpful if establishment of agrometeorological services could be guided at the lowest administrative level. However, collected examples in China show how far agrometeorological information still was from farmers' conditions and actual services only ten years ago (Tai Huajie et al. 1997). Pilot projects presently underway have to show that this gap can actuallybe narrowed (Stigter 2006d).

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