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PICSA: helping African farmers to make decisions

Hello, my name is Graham Clarkson. I’m a research fellow at the School of Agriculture Policy and Development at the University of Reading. So PICSA stands for Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture. And the purpose of PICSA is to help farmers to make evidence-based decisions based on climate information, locally specific climate information and also, locally specific options considering crops, livestock, and livelihoods. Currently, with PICSA we’re working in around six different countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We’re working in the west of Africa, in Ghana, in Mali, and in Senegal. And then in East and Central Africa, we’re working in Malawi. Tanzania, and Rwanda.
So far with PICSA, we’ve reached more than 20,000 small scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. And a large proportion of these are female farmers. Farmers would generally not have access to historical climate data. They use their own experience. And they’ll also use indigenous knowledge from within their communities, which can help to predict what they think might happen in the season and help people to plan and make decisions.
So farmers are able to jointly analyse climate information and weather data to help make decisions about the different crops that they might grow, the different varieties they might grow, but also about management options, so whether that be to conserve water, to use a different type of cultivation practise, or also thinking about things like planting dates, so when might it be best to plant. So these data are collected from a number of different meteorological stations, which are positioned across the different countries in which we work. These data are then cleaned and analyse firstly, by the MetService with support from researchers at the University of Reading and other institutions.
And then they are turned into service products, if you like, that are more useful for farmers and farmers can use in their planning and decision-making. An example of a success story from our work in Ghana comes from the monitor and evaluation of the work we did under the cascade project there. So we found that 97% of farmers who’ve trained in PICSA had made a change in either their crops, livestock, or livelihood enterprises. These types of changes include a change in the variety of crops to better suit their local environment, even changing crops altogether. A lot of farmers reported change in planting dates.
Other farmers made decisions to change livelihoods, maybe go into new livelihoods and things like beekeeping, things like beer brewing, things like even making shoes from car tyres to me to meet demands within their community based on some of the different participatory tools that we use in PICSA.

Using models of a future climate can be extremely useful for farmers when deciding what type or variety of crops to plant or when to schedule harvest. Historical and real-time weather data can also provide a basis for decision making. In this video, Dr Graham Clarkson explains how the project PICSA, is helping farmers (mainly in Africa) to make decisions based on weather data.

PICSA aims at helping farmers to make their own decisions. What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of helping farmers to make their own decisions as opposed to making decisions for them? Add to the discussion in the comment area below. Remember, you can also ‘like’ or reply to comments made by your fellow learners.

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The Future of Farming: Exploring Climate Smart Agriculture

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