Knowing when to plant and harvest

Focus, Normal

The National, Tuesday July 24th, 2012

CLIMATE and agricultural resource are very closely related and, as such, any crisis situation in the agricultural sector, notably a “food crisis”, stands a great risk of becoming escalated by climate vagaries and extreme weather events such as heat wave, frost, drought and floods.
Food crisis is, therefore, gradually attaining a catastrophic dimension as a result of climate change, especially in developing regions such as the Asia-Pacific where recovery from such crisis can take several years given the low coping capacity and the fast growing population.
In PNG, the impact of the drought episodes of 1997 is extremely serious and often dramatic, particularly for the most vulnerable groups –  women and children.
Drought forces the inhabitants of the rural areas to resort to survival strategies, which further exacerbate the deforestation and land degradation problems, with associated reduction in land productivity and worsening poverty problems.
The recent episodes of 2007 and 2008 food crises pushed about one billion people worldwide into poverty, greatly reversing the little gain of developmental programmes, particularly in developing countries.
Prior knowledge of the trend and changes in the respective meteorological and climate parameters that affect the various agricultural operations remain an invaluable tool either as a guide for effective harnessing of climate as resource or as a warning against weather-related hazards which usually signal weather-induced food crisis.
It vital for us to understand the key meteorological parameters and their relevance to agriculture and food production, taking note of their variability/changes and associated hazards that contribute to food crisis. It is also useful to explore possible areas of collaboration among stakeholders to ensure more efficient application of the agro-climate information.
Agro-climatic information aids management of agricultural activities and operations (eg determining the time, extent and manner of cultivation, sowing, planting, application of biocides and herbicides, fertiliser application, ploughing, harrowing, irrigation, etc.). It is, therefore, concerned with indispensable climatic parameters such as precipitation, humidity, temperature, solar radiation, wind/air motion and soil moisture content.
These are useful for interpretation of physical processes in the lower atmosphere and upper soil layers, which are of great importance to agriculture.
Various agro-climate information services/products that can be developed and appropriate applications of these can result in about 30% increase in crop yield. Other benefits include : reduction of the vulnerability of food production to weather hazards, ensuring informed decisions about water management for crop, aiding farmers in adjusting planting dates and selection of crop varieties, enhancing irrigation strategies, and reducing agricultural losses from natural hazard events via the early warning services/information provided on the hazards. Some of these services are:   
lAnnual rainfall prediction and socio-economic implications for PNG. This seasonal rainfall forecast bulletin consists of onset dates of the rainy season, cessation dates of the cropping season, length of the rainy season, total amount of rainfall expected for the season and socio-economic implications of the expected rainfall pattern and advisories in the various sectors such as agriculture, water resources management, health, environmental management, energy, transportation, construction, etc;
lAnnual climate review. It contains information on observed changes in climatic parameters;
lAgro-meteorological bulletin: This can be published fortnightly and disseminated to clients through internet and clients’ e-mail. It should comprise PNG’s agro-climate at a glance such as rainfall anomaly, rainfall amount, comparison of normal with actual rainfall, soil moisture condition; maximum temperature anomaly, actual maximum temperature values, growing degree days; weather outlook; predictions of onset and end of growing season; agromet data (rainfall, rainday, potential evapo-transpiration, maximum and minimum temperature, GDD and solar radiation);
lFarmers’ guide. In most countries, the farmers’ guides are handbooks that all investors in agriculture rely on for advisory on what to plant, where to plant, how to plant and when to plant. It contains the elements (onset and cessation dates of the rains, length of the rainy season (LSR), average annual rainfall (mm) and rainfall equivalent to be added by way of irrigation to ensure better crop yield (specific water consumption); and
lQuarterly bulletins. Quarterly weather review. It contains information across the country on synoptic features, temperatures (maximum, minimum and mean), rainfall and socio-economic impacts (marine, agriculture and hydrology).
Marine met quarterly bulletin. It contains information over coastal areas and the Pacific Ocean consisting of coastal weather review, sea surface temperatures, winds, wave heights, wave period and swell and sample of marine forecast.
Hydromet quarterly bulletin. It deals mainly on information about drought situation in the country. The content includes drought monitoring, drought impacts, drought mitigation hydromet implications, etc.
No doubt, the carrying capacity of the biosphere to produce enough food for our teeming population is being seriously threatened by climate variabilities.
The need to ensure appropriate application of the outlined products that address such critical conditions is, therefore, vital. There is also a need to incorporate such information into our efforts to adapting to climate change-induced food
crisis especially through collaborations among the relevant stakeholders.
Understandings should be reached to focus on shared concerns about climate change, hunger, and nutrition and food security. It should also aim at enhancing collaboration and collective capacity to protect livelihood of the vulnerable communities.
Finally, it is important to note that climate change is a “crisis multiplier” and as it is becomes very rapid, weather/climate-related factors that contribute to food crisis are expected to increase both in frequency and intensity.
In order to equally ensure accelerated coping strategies, efficient and timely use of the various enumerated agro-climatic information services should constitute a major component of any effort geared towards achieving food security.
Efforts to strengthen infrastructure and human capacity of the relevant institutions’ agro-allied information support systems such as agro-climate info services, towards achieving improved service delivery in this area should be seen as an investment.