a magazine on ecological agriculture
a one stop treasure of practical field experiences

Science Field Shops – Learning in response to climate change

Farmers are learning to prepare and cope with climatic variations by observing, learning and interacting with farmers and researchers. Science Field Shops in Indonesia are serving as a response to climate change, facilitating this process successfully.

A farmer measures rainfall in his field
A farmer measures rainfall in his field

Science Field Shops (SFSs) have been developed in Indonesia as a better alternative for Climate Field Schools to train farmers and extension intermediaries in tropical lowlands rice production. This is a continuation of response to climate change – a farmer led rural response to climate change. No short term teaching but based on long term field dialogues on climate services for agriculture. SFSs are monthly discussions throughout the year between farmers, scientists and extension staff in which farmers as learners report and compare their measurements and observations, document and analyze on what happens in their individual fields.

This has two faces. For scientists, this new knowledge is traditional and for farmers it is more recent empirical knowledge. Both learnings are used in the co-creation and use of new practical knowledge in the farming environment. In the end, all farmers may be reached in a cascade involving even more farmer facilitators as additional extension intermediaries. The latter, after some time, could be government extension officers and/or farmer facilitators, selected by the farmers from within their groups and trained in additional SFSs.

Science Field Shop
Science Field Shop

Considering extension as bringing new knowledge to farmers in SFSs, these additional SFSs simply bring in additional knowledge to farmer facilitators. The new knowledge centered around weather, climate and agriculture is called agrometeorological learning. Defining policy learning as changes in beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and goals due to (transfer of) new knowledge, agrometeorological learning contains those changes due to (transfer of) new meteorological and climatological knowledge.

Climate change

Climate change is the present driver of environmental pressures, negatively influencing crops, animals and people in farmer communities. From a farming point of view, climate change has three components that make it necessary to consider it as a serious enemy: (i) global warming; (ii) increasing climate variability and (iii) more (and often more severe) extreme events. Over the seven years that we worked with farmers in Indonesia, we observed consequences of these three components with farmers in their fields. Our strategy is to bring in new knowledge for immediate use in co-creating new practical knowledge on-farm, in joint SFSs. We have learned that we should start our SFSs focusing on the most needed and most recent knowledge on climate change and its consequences for local farming.

 Climate services

We distinguish seven initial climate services for agriculture of an organizational kind that bring farmers closer to their ecosystems, threatened by climate change. This includes what causes these changes and what these ecosystems yield under conditions of a changing climate. They are:

(i) guidance on daily rainfall measurements of all participating farmers in their plots

(ii) guidance on daily agro-ecological observations (soil, plants, water, biomass, pests, climate extremes)

(iii) focusing on measured yields and explanations for the differences

(iv) organization of the SFSs

(v) development and exchange of monthly updated seasonal climate predictions in the form of seasonal rainfall scenarios

(vi) delivery of new knowledge related to the above, including the provision and discussion of answers to all agricultural/climatological questions raised by participants throughout the year

(vii) guidance on the establishment of farmer field experiments to get on-farm answers on urgent local questions

Rainfall measurements

It appears that the consequences of increasing climate variability are best understood by exchanging knowledge on daily rainfall measurements by all participating farmers in their own fields. That way they get new knowledge on rainfall variability in time and space and their own field position. Our team produced documentaries on this progress by Rainfall Observers Clubs that had been formed in Indramayu, NW coastal Java, and east Lombok, respectively. We use these documentaries to show and discuss our approach with other stakeholders (government officers in the regions of our farmers, SFS funding organizations, farmer groups with possible interest to participate).

Agro-ecological observations

Farmers have been observing their agro-ecosystems, but now do so with a daily rhythm. They note their observations on the daily rainfall measurements in their plots, to be discussed in the SFSs. This archiving is a completely new eye opening practice. As our present trials in Indramayu and the Eastern part of the island of Lombok, have shown that these daily observations create an early alertness. What is happening in and with the crop’s ecosystem gives them earliest indications of unusualness. They discuss in the field or via SMSs with some of their neighbors and other farmers in the region before an SFS takes place. This way, local early warnings on bad agro-ecosystem developments can be shared in real time and at monthly meetings. This is real progress. For example, communities were prepared better during the floods in January 2014. The prolonged drought caused by El-Nino in 2015 was envisaged but the predictions were not always rationally used. This is part of the learning process.

Measured yields and explanations of their differences

Another major progress we made was to suggest our  farmers to anticipate yields from the above ecosystem observations and compare with the actual yields after harvesting. Farmers exchanged views during SFSs about the differences with the comparable (rainy or dry) season last year and differences between them. We expect that the farmers do all this by themselves after some years.  We consider this as a part of the continuing learning process using knowledge co-created by the whole team.

A farmer making observations in his rice field
A farmer making observations in his rice field

Organization of the SFSs

Without climate change, the SFSs would have been less necessary. Present weather and climate realities force farmers to rethink their strategies by policy/agrometeorological learning. The scientists participating in SFS are an anthropologist and her students, an agrometeorologist and occasional guests specializing in pests/diseases. The SFSs have particularly become a forum where farming problems and policies are discussed.

Development and exchange of monthly updated seasonal climate predictions in the form of seasonal rainfall scenarios

For more than three years now, the agro-meteorologist has been sharing a monthly “seasonal rainfall scenario” which is spread by SMS among farmers, most often through zone coordinators and farmer facilitators.

We have chosen for an El-Nino Southern Oscillation based prediction from NOAA/CPC (The Climate Prediction Centre (CPC) of the National Ocean and Atmosphere Agency) and IRI (International Research Institute for Climate and Society) sources. We deliver the scenarios in probabilistic terms of daily life such as rainfall will be below normal, normal or above normal. Absorption and use of this prediction has been steady, but slow.

A questionnaire of early 2015 learned that one of the main reasons is that the “below normal, normal and above normal” terminology appears difficult to grasp. We now pay additional attention to this issue of co-creating acceptable knowledge. A positive result of the questionnaire was that the longer farmers got and used the scenario predictions, the better was their understanding and use that is highly rated as (very) useful.

Delivering of new knowledge related to the above, including the provision and discussion of answers to all agricultural/climatological questions raised by participants throughout the year

Farmers have many questions about the new knowledge we bring and about the new practical knowledge we co-create. The anthropologist, who has been examining farmers’ engagements most of her academic life, replies in first instance during the SFS dialogues. Further questions are delivered in writing and are sent to the agrometeorologist. His responses are discussed, where necessary, during the SFSs. An Australian colleague who occasionally is in Indonesia responds to pesticides related questions. Colleagues from other disciplines (e.g. soil scientist, entomologist, plant breeder) are available. This is the scientific knowledge “shopping” we do in SFSs. Deliberations of their questions in SFS dialogues are highly rated by the farmers.

Guidance on the establishment of farmer field experiments to get on-farm answers on urgent local questions

Simple demonstration experiments were set up in which some farmers were highly interested. Some of them were interested in finding out whether water and biomass could be differently managed to reduce methane emissions without increasing costs for the farmers. A few started to experiment with intermittent wetting and drying that is known to reduce methane emission without increasing costs. Some started to compost rice straw with other waste and use it to co-fertilize their crop instead of ploughing the straw into the wet soil that is responsible for methane emissions.

One farmer also compared yields with and without use of pesticides. In a long dialogue on his results, we came to the conclusion that he had indeed harvested lesser yields to an extent of around 2 tons/ha, when pesticides were not used. The government expects that farmers make the choice of higher yields with pesticides but farmers’ health and soil health suffer in the process. This is all another co-creation of new knowledge.

Final remarks

In the coming two years, we will continue training farmer facilitators and other extension intermediaries in Indramayu, Lombok and possibly a few other  places. We have developed Roving Seminars on “Science Field Shops with farmer extension intermediaries for climate services in agriculture”.  We will further develop agrometeorological learning as policy learning of farmers in decision making. We will continue with this co-creation of new knowledge with more farmers by  establishing more farmer field experiments to solve local questions. Also the use of new knowledge and co-created knowledge will be tested time and again.

Kees Stigter, Agrometeorologist, Visiting Professor in developing countries for Agromet Vision (Netherlands, Indonesia, Africa), Poncogati, Block Taman, RT8/RW11, Kec. Curadami, Bondowoso 68251 (or P.O. Box 16, 68208 Bondowoso), Indonesia. E-mail: cjstigter@usa.net

Yunita T. Winarto, Professor in anthropology, Cluster Response Farming to Climate Change,  Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Center for Anthropological Studies, Universitas Indonesia (UI),  Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Fl. 1 Building B, Kampus FISIP-UI, Depok 16424, Indonesia. E-mail: yunita.winarto@gmail.com