Come rain or shine, the farmer thrives

By Enika Bushi

The Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture (PICSA) is all about giving farmers the information and confidence to make informed decisions. It invites farmers to 'sit at the table' giving them insight, and a wider suite of options to help them, and all of us, succeed in achieving food security. 

On 20 February 2018, IFAD held an in-house Climate and Environment Lecture on the PICSA approach.

The lecture was moderated by IFAD's Stephen Twomlow and delivered by Professor Peter Dorward, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading; Roger Stern, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics, University of Reading and Graham Clarkson, Senior Research Fellow, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, with considerable experience of research into agricultural innovation systems in sub Saharan Africa.

PICSA has been implemented in 14 countries to date, supporting tens of thousands of farmers to make better use of climate adaptive practices and technologies, ultimately leading to increased food security.

IFAD has, for the first time, integrated PICSA within one of its Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP) funded projects on wool and mohair promotion in Lesotho (WAMPP). It is also the first time that PICSA will be orientated towards livestock farmers, rather than crop producers.

How we do it

PICSA’s success relies on working through extension services and NGOs and placing a particular emphasis on supporting farmers to make their own choices appropriate in their own contexts.

It does so through the use of a range of participatory decision making tools, together with new and historical information on climate management options. Furthermore, it combines climate, crop, livestock and livelihood information with tools that farmers can use to decide the best option for them by means of new enterprises or by better managing existing enterprises.

PICSA tries to address the challenge of climate information by focusing on two key elements: historical weather records and climate forecasting. The activities start long before the growing season when farmers are taught by experts to understand historical graphs of their region’s temperature, rainfall, and seasonal cycles.

The first stage involves working with groups of farmers before the harvest to analyze historical climate information and to develop crop, livestock and livelihood options that suit each farmer best. This is done by using participatory tools such as resource allocation maps.

The second stage, which takes place just before and during the planting season, involves extension staff and farmers going over the practical implications of weather forecasts on the strategies developed in the first stage. Part of the goal here is to make extension workers more comfortable working with data.

It is clear to see that farmers are at the heart and the centre of the approach. Climate change is both a challenge and opportunity, and PICSA enables farmers to choose which livelihood options are most appropriate to their personal situation, whatever the weather.